The Bristol Channel is an arm of the Celtic Sea - a land borderless arm of the Atlantic Ocean - situated between south Wales and the north coasts of the English counties of Devon and Somerset.
The Bristol Channel is a major, regional shipping route and holiday destination, which is home to several scenic, seaside resorts and major industrial cities and commercial, dockland facilities.
At seventy miles long and between five and forty three miles wide, the Bristol Channel is the United Kingdom's largest natural inlet, with a depth of between thirty to two hundred and forty feet and a two hundred and nineteen mile long, award winning coastline, which is the site of the U.K's highest and the world's second highest, tidal bore.
The channel is fed by eleven major British rivers including the rivers Severn, Avon, Taff, Usk and Wye all of which run into the three hundred and forty six, square mile River Severn Estuary situated at the eastern most edge of the channel.
The channel is synonomous for it's high tides and tidal surges which can lead to waves of over forty feet high that come crashing in on the tide at over eight miles an hour. These surges lead to the phenomena known as the Severn Bore, which sends waves surging along the neighbouring River Severn, resulting in this river having the highest tidal bore in the United Kingdom and the second highest tidal bore in the world.
The channel is home to six islands, all of them uninhabited, including Steep Holm ,Flat Holm, Caldey and Lundy, all of which are protected, Heritage Coast, havens for nesting gannets, guillimots, razorbills and puffins. The protected waters around these islands are also wildlife sanctuaries for many rare and unusual species of marine life.
At low tide the channel becomes one vast expanse of mudflats, which become a magnet for rare and unusual feeding, wading birds. The channel's coastline is also a wildlife haven for many rare plants, flowers and grasses.
The water of the channel also harbours several species of porpoise and dolphin as well as large numbers of porbeagle, blue shark and grey seals.
These waters also contain a wealth of fish species including pollock, whiting, bass, ling and conger eels, making the area popular with recreational shore and boat fishermen.
The waters are also stocked with large,supplies of crabs and cockles, resulting in a large, commercial shellfish industry in the area.
The Bristol Channel coastline is the site of some of the south west's most scenic landscapes which inturn host the five award winning, British Heritage Coasts of Wales' South Pembrokshire Coast and The Gower Peninsular and England's Exmoor, Bideford Bay and Hartland Point.
This area also includes the three National Walking Trails of The Gower, the South West Coast and the Pembroke Coast.
The Bristol Channel's waters are made up of several large bays and river estuaries, including Bideford Bay on England's north Devon coast, Bridgewater Bay on England's north Somerset coast, Swansea Bay and Carmarthen Bay on the south Wales coast and Cardiff Bay situated at the mouth of the River Severn's vast estuary.
The channel's northern coast along the south Wales coast is a heavilly industrialised area that contains the ports of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport and oil refineries located at Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock. This high concentration of commercial shipping has led to area being the site of at least twenty four known shipwrecks, of which ten still remain, as well as three large oil spillages. - For a complete list of these shipwrecks, visit - barrywales.co.uk/tomclemett/shipwrecks -
The channel's major oil spillages were -
The Esso Portsmouth caused a small spillage and subsequent major fire in July 1960 at the mouth of Milford Haven Waterway.
The Christas Bitas spilled four thousand tons of crude oil into water ten miles off the Pembroke coast in October 1978.
The Sea Empress spilt 73,000 tons of crude oil into the channel, again at the mouth of the Milford Haven Waterway in February 1996, causing the United Kingdom's third largest oil spillage and the world's twelth largest oil spillage, which resulted in a year long clean up campaign costing over £120 million.
The coastline of the Bristol Channel has the highest concentration of lighthouses - at least 21 - anywhere in the world, with many of them now used as holiday guest houses. The area also hosts Wales' last manned lighthouse situated at Nash Point, Llantwit Major and England's iconic, Portishead Lighthouse at Battery Point, Somerset.
The waters around the Bristol Channel coast are referred to by the name Lundy on British shipping lane maps.
Large holiday resorts in the area include England's Bideford, Minehead, Burnham on Sea, Weston Supermare and Ilfracombe and Wales' Gower Peninsular, Barry Island, Penarth and Tenby.
The channel's three major cities are Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol.
The area around the Bristol Channel was the site of England's first recorded tsunami, following the devastating earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal in January 1607, which resulted in twelve foot waves hitting the Bristol Channel coast three hours after the quake, which went on to cause extensive flooding in the area, which killed over three thousand people.
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