Contrary to expectations we actually enjoyed a break in our recent appalling run of bad weather last Sunday, brief respite from the rain and wind which has become an almost constant presence this winter. To take advantage we headed down to Mumbles for a mooch around Bracelet Bay and spent a happy couple of hours doing nothing more than simply watching the tide come in. It might be my advancing years (what do you mean mid-thirties isn’t old!) but I find that where once the idea of simply sitting filled me with dread I now find myself increasingly looking for opportunities to do just that. This was to be no exception but before the foreshore had chance to disappear beneath the waves once more I couldn’t help but notice an impressive colony of Honeycomb Worms and went in for a closer look.
Easily spotted at low tide these are, as the photo above suggests, a reef-building worm which constructs for itself a protective tube from sand and shell fragments. These interlocking tubes create the distinctive ‘honeycomb’ structures from which the species takes its name and can house tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals. Found where there is hard substrate upon which to build and a ready supply of sand, our local coastline makes for almost perfect habitat and it’s no surprise that they are relatively widespread here.
Being at the northern edge of their range in the UK however, Honeycomb Worms find themselves vulnerable to damage. Winter storms such as we’ve been experiencing lately and extreme cold can cause colonies to die back, often for several years at a time. Human interference also takes its toll through pollution and incidental damage from mussel fisheries but simply walking across these structures at low tide can also prove destructive.
If you do happen to find a reef I highly recommend taking a closer look as the tubes themselves are exquisite, just be careful where you step.