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Cairns: Will dredging destroy the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty?

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"Under the title of this debate, 'Will Dredging Destroy the UK's First Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?', there are two main issues that I wish address and that I ask the Minister to respond to.

The first issue relates to recognising Gower's fiftieth anniversary as the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty and the significance of that event. The second is about drawing attention to the continued impact of dredging on the coastline.

The National Parks and Countryside Act 1949 called for areas with particular qualities to be identified as areas of outstanding natural beauty and to be preserved for the benefit of the nation.

An area of outstanding natural beauty is labelled as such because it combines precious landscape with beauty, almost giving it a personality of its own.

Since Gower became the first AONB in 1956, 41 further areas have been identified in England and Wales.

Gower's designation is made up of 73 square miles of breathtaking seascape, landscape, cliff tops, expansive beaches, excellent agricultural land and a number of distinct individual communities.

Each individual part of Gower has certain aspects that contribute to the entire area and its designation as an AONB. The area contains breathtaking limestone scenery and large woodlands and valleys lined with stone-faced banks and complemented by Norman castles.

Views seen from Mumbles and Wormshead leave people speechless. Gower also experiences the second highest tidal rise and fall in the world.

An ever-changing climate and microclimates give the area the ability to grow over a 1,000 species of flora, some of which are unique to the peninsula.

These act as a magnet to much wildlife, with many different species of birds nesting in one of Gower's 21 nature reserves or along the heritage coastline. The scientific community also recognises 27 different areas as sites of special scientific interest.

With such fantastic natural resources, there is little wonder that Gower was designated as an AONB. Tourists flock to the area for the views and wildlife and the great beaches to explore.

The coastline offers magical properties and some of the most attractive beaches in Europe. There is little wonder, therefore, that the potential loss of sand along the coastline is so alarming and such a worry to locals and visitors alike.

Most sand in the Gower is dredged from the Helwick Bank, one of the largest sandbanks in Britain, which is a short distance from the Port Eynon to Wormshead coastline.

In the 27 years prior to 1991, 741,000 tonnes of sand were dredged from the Helwick Bank. In the nine years up to 1999, 524,000 tonnes were dredged. Sand has been dredged from the bank for more than 100 years and, unfortunately, accurate records over the century are not available.

However, over the short periods that I have mentioned, well over 1 million tonnes of sand have been dredged from the Helwick Bank. That equates to an area the size of an average football field, 100m deep.

If we take into account all of the sand that has been dredged from the Bristol Channel, it amounts to 21 million tonnes, which is equivalent to an area the size of an average football field, a mile and a quarter deep.

On some areas of beaches, the level of sand loss is blatantly obvious. Rocks that have never been seen before are now visible. On some formerly sandy beaches, sand has been replaced by pebbles.

The Helwick Bank plays an important part in protecting the Gower coastline from the full force of the tide. It also helps disperse the energy of a strong current against the beaches at low tide, and, at high tide, it plays a part in preventing cliff erosion.

Tourism plays a major part in the Gower economy. The growth in the short breaks market has allowed it to become a year-round resort, offering fantastic facilities for walkers and cyclists and for other activity holidays.

It was a delight to see one of Gower's famous hostelries, the King Arthur Hotel, included in this year's list of Wales's fastest growing 50 businesses. If sand dredging continues, these once beautiful and heavily populated areas could be destroyed forever.

The economic impact would be devastating, but the environmental consequences would be unthinkable.

This debate also provides an opportunity to recognise the Welsh Assembly Government's plans to hold a public inquiry into the latest licence application to continue dredging off the Helwick Bank. At long last, the campaign by thousands of people in Gower and the wider community has, at least, had some impact.

I will never forget a Government official at a presentation some years ago stating that the marine currents and sand movements were a dynamic, complex environment that they were trying to understand.

That shows that we are not clear as to the impact. The available evidence clearly highlights that a precautionary approach should be taken. The obligation should be on the dredgers to prove that their activities do not have an impact, rather than the other way around.

It is interesting to note that the company driving the application is Llanelli Dredging, a subsidiary of the Dutch company, Royal Boskalis Westminster. What is wrong with that?

Absolutely nothing at first glance, until you understand that the Netherlands does not allow dredging within 20 km of its coastline. It clearly highlights the precautionary approach that is being taken in the Netherlands.

Let me bring my contribution to this debate to a close. Gower is one of the UK's most beautiful areas, with some of the best beaches in Europe. Next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of its designation as the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty. Surely, we should celebrate that with a festival of events.

There should be a co-ordinated approach to highlight the fantastic environment that is on our doorstep. With this in mind, I approached the First Minister, the chief executive of the Wales Tourist Board and the leader of the local authority last July to ask what plans were afoot.

It was clear that nothing had been thought through, and there is now a scramble to get something underway. All the tourism brochures and calendars have already been published or are at the printers. A great opportunity has been missed.

All credit to Cardiff, it certainly made the most of its celebration of 100 years as a city and 50 years as the capital city of Wales. Such a series of events should already be organised to run throughout next year to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Gower's becoming the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty."

"O dan deitl y ddadl hon, 'A fydd Carthu'n Dinistrio'r Ardal o Harddwch Naturiol Eithriadol Gyntaf yn y DU?', yr wyf am fynd i'r afael â dau brif fater a gofyn i'r Gweinidog ymateb iddynt. Mae'r mater cyntaf yn ymwneud â chydnabod hanner canmlwyddiant dynodi Penrhyn Gwyr fel ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol gyntaf y DU ac arwyddocâd y digwyddiad hwnnw.

Mae'r ail fater yn ymwneud â thynnu sylw at effaith barhaus carthu ar yr arfordir.

Bu i Ddeddf Parciau Cenedlaethol a Chefn Gwlad 1949 alw am ddynodi ardaloedd ag iddynt nodweddion arbennig fel ardaloedd o harddwch naturiol eithriadol a'u cadw er budd y genedl.

Caiff ardal ei dynodi fel ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol oherwydd ei bod yn cyfuno tirwedd werthfawr â harddwch sy'n golygu bod gan yr ardal ei phersonoliaeth ei hun bron.

Ers i Benrhyn Gwyr gael ei dynodi fel ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol yn 1956, mae 41 o ardaloedd eraill wedi'u dynodi yng Nghymru a Lloegr.

Mae dynodiad Penrhyn Gwyr yn cwmpasu 73 milltir sgwâr o forlun, tirlun, clogwyni, traethau helaeth, tir amaethyddol rhagorol a nifer o gymunedau unigol hynod.

Mae gan bob rhan o Benrhyn Gwyr agweddau penodol sy'n cyfrannu at yr ardal gyfan a'i dynodiad fel ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol. Yn yr ardal ceir tirlun calchfaen ysblennydd a choetiroedd mawr a dyffrynnoedd ag iddynt lethrau creigiog a chestyll Normanaidd yn goron ar y cwbl.

Caiff pobl eu syfrdanu gan y golygfeydd o'r Mwmbwls a Phen Pyrod. Ym Mhenrhyn Gwyr ceir y lefelau llanwol ail isaf ac uchaf yn y byd. Yn sgîl hinsawdd gyfnewidiol a microhinsoddau mae dros 1,000 o fathau o fflora yn tyfu yn yr ardal, rhai ohonynt yn unigryw i'r penrhyn.

Mae'r rhain yn denu llu o fywyd gwyllt, gyda nifer o fathau gwahanol o adar yn nythu mewn 21 o warchodfeydd natur ar Benrhyn Gwyr neu ar hyd yr arfordir treftadaeth. Mae'r gymuned wyddonol hefyd yn nodi 27 o ardaloedd gwahanol fel safleoedd o ddiddordeb gwyddonol arbennig.

Gydag adnoddau naturiol mor wych, nid oes rhyfedd i Benrhyn Gwyr gael ei ddynodi fel ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol. Mae twristiaid yn heidio i'r ardal i fwynhau'r golygfeydd, y bywyd gwyllt a'r traethau gwych.

Mae'r arfordir yn cynnig tai hudolus a rhai o draethau harddaf Ewrop. Nid oes syndod felly bod trigolion lleol ac ymwelwyr fel ei gilydd yn pryderu'n fawr ynghylch y posibilrwydd y bydd tywod yn diflannu ar hyd yr arfordir.

Caiff y rhan fwyaf o dywod ym Mhenrhyn Gwyr ei garthu o Helwick Bank, sef un o'r banciau tywod mwyaf ym Mhrydain, nid nepell o forlin Porth Eynon i Ben Pyrod.

Yn y 27 mlynedd cyn 1991, carthwyd 741,000 o dunelli metrig o dywod o Helwick Bank. Yn y naw mlynedd hyd at 1999, carthwyd 524,000 o dunelli metrig. Carthwyd tywod o'r banc am fwy na 100 mlynedd ac, yn anffodus, nid oes cofnodion cywir dros y ganrif ar gael. Fodd bynnag, dros y cyfnodau byr a grybwyllais, mae dros 1 miliwn o dunelli metrig o dywod wedi'u carthu o Helwick Bank.

Mae hynny gyfystyr ag ardal maint cae pêl-droed arferol 100m o ddyfnder. Os ystyriwn yr holl dywod a garthwyd o Fôr Hafren, sef 21 miliwn o dunelli metrig, mae hynny gyfystyr ag ardal maint cae pêl-droed arferol, filltir a chwarter o ddyfnder.

Ar rai traethau mae lefel y tywod a gollwyd yn gwbl amlwg. Mae creigiau nas gwelwyd erioed o'r blaen bellach yn y golwg. Ar rai traethau a fu unwaith yn draethau tywod, ceir cerrig bellach. Mae Helwick Bank yn bwysig o ran diogelu morlin Penrhyn Gwyr rhag grym y llanw.

Mae hefyd yn helpu i liniaru grym cerrynt cryf yn erbyn y traethau ar lanw isel, ac, ar lanw uchel mae'n chwarae rhan yn y broses o atal erydiad y clogwyni.

Mae twristiaeth yn chwarae rhan amlwg yn economi Penrhyn Gwyr. Mae'r twf yn y farchnad gwyliau byr yn golygu ei fod wedi datblygu'n gyrchfan drwy gydol y flwyddyn gan gynnig cyfleusterau gwych i gerddwyr a beicwyr ac ar gyfer gwyliau gweithgaredd eraill. Roedd yn bleser gweld un o westai enwocaf Penrhyn Gwyr, Gwesty'r King Arthur, yn cael ei gynnwys yn un o'r 50 o fusnesau yng Nghymru sy'n tyfu gyflymaf.

Os bydd carthu tywod yn parhau, gallai'r ardaloedd hardd a phoblog hyn gael eu dinistrio am byth. Byddai'r effaith economaidd yn ddinistriol, ond byddai'r canlyniadau amgylcheddol y tu hwnt i bob amgyffred.

Mae'r ddadl hon hefyd yn cynnig cyfle i gydnabod cynlluniau Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru i gynnal ymchwiliad cyhoeddus i'r cais diweddaraf am drwydded i barhau i garthu oddi ar Helwick Bank.

O'r diwedd, mae'r ymgyrch gan filoedd o bobl ym Mhenrhyn Gwyr a'r gymuned ehangach wedi cael rhywfaint o effaith.

Ni fyddaf byth yn anghofio swyddog o'r Llywodraeth mewn cyflwyniad rai blynyddoedd yn ôl yn nodi bod ceryntau morol a symudiadau tywod yn amgylchedd deinamig a chymhleth yr oeddent yn ceisio'i ddeall.

Dengys hynny nad ydym yn deall yr effaith yn iawn. Mae'n amlwg bod y dystiolaeth sydd ar gael yn amlygu y dylid bod yn rhagofalus. Dylai fod yn ofynnol i'r rhai sy'n carthu brofi nad yw eu gweithgareddau yn cael effaith, yn hytrach nag fel arall.

Mae'n ddiddorol nodi mai'r cwmni sy'n hybu'r cais yw Llanelli Dredging, un o is-gwmnïau Royal Boskalis Westminster o'r Iseldiroedd. Beth sydd o'i le yn hynny o beth? Dim byd o gwbl ar yr olwg gyntaf, hyd nes eich bod yn deall nad yw'r Iseldiroedd yn caniatáu carthu o fewn 20km i'w harfordir.

Mae'n amlygu'r camau rhagofalus a gymerir yn yr Iseldiroedd.

Gadewch imi ddod â'm cyfraniad i'r ddadl hon i ben. Mae Penrhyn Gwyr yn un o ardaloedd harddaf y DU, ac mae ganddi rai o'r traethau gorau yn Ewrop. Y flwyddyn nesaf, bydd hanner canmlwyddiant ei ddynodi fel yr ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol gyntaf yn y DU.

Mae'n sicr y dylem ddathlu hynny gyda gwyl o ddigwyddiadau. Dylid mynd ati mewn ffordd gydgysylltiedig i amlygu'r amgylchedd gwych sydd yn ein milltir sgwâr. O gofio hyn, cysylltais â'r Prif Weinidog, prif weithredwr Bwrdd Croeso Cymru ac arweinydd yr awdurdod lleol fis Gorffennaf diwethaf i ofyn pa gynlluniau a oedd ar y gweill.

Yr oedd yn amlwg nad oedd dim byd wedi'i ystyried, ac mae bellach yn dipyn o frys i drefnu rhywbeth. Mae pob un o'r llyfrynnau a'r calendrau twristiaeth wedi'u cyhoeddi eisoes neu maent wrthi'n cael eu hargraffu.

Mae cyfle gwych wedi'i golli. Pob clod i Gaerdydd, mae'n sicr ei bod wedi manteisio i'r eithaf ar ddathlu canmlwyddiant fel dinas a hanner canmlwyddiant fel prifddinas Cymru.

Dylid bod wedi trefnu cyfres o ddigwyddiadau o'r fath eisoes i'w cynnal drwy gydol y flwyddyn nesaf i ddathlu hanner can mlynedd ers i Benrhyn Gwyr gael ei ddynodi fel yr ardal o harddwch naturiol eithriadol gyntaf yn y DU."

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