Britain’s Storms and Floods Reveal Submerged Forests And The Terror of Sink Holes

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - While Britain’s coast line has been battered by storms and high-winds, and the country under flood, something magical has emerged: a prehistoric forest of hundreds of oaks that died more than 4,500 years ago, along beaches in Cardigan Bay. The recent storms have offered a glimpse into the past of the Welsh coastline, by washing away peat and revealing the stunning remains of ancient forests.

The location of Borth's submerged forest is a well-known secret. It stretches sporadically for two to three miles along the shore between Ynys-las and Borth, about halfway between high and low water. What makes it a secret is that it is normally hidden under a layer of sand and is only exposed under certain circumstances. On the rare occasions like now, when it is fully exposed, a flattened expanse of peat containing the remains of numerous trees is revealed. Gnarled tree stumps and roots, believed to be dating from the Bronze Age, are visible. Pine (Pinus), alder (Alnus), oak (Quercus) and Birch (Betula) have all been identified. 

The gaunt, wispy trees are said to have given rise to the local legend of a lost kingdom, Cantre'r Gwaelod, drowned beneath the waves. The trees stopped growing between 4,500 and 6,000 years ago, as the water level rose and a thick blanket of peat formed. Now a great swath of the lost forest has been revealed. The effect of the recent weather is also visible further down the west coast of the U.K., as the heavy winds and rain shifted vast bands of shingle and sand on Cornish beaches, to reveal more submerged forests.

Large trunks of oak, beech and pine in peat beds are now visible near Penzance in Mount's Bay. For centuries, experts had known that the forests existed, but are rarely exposed as they are now on Portreath beach and in Daymer Bay. Using radiocarbon dating on the peat beds, geologists believe extensive forests extended across Mount's Bay between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago when hunter gatherers were giving way to farming communities. These forests were growing four or five thousand years when the climate was slightly warmer than today. Submerged forests are evidence of changes in the bay as sea level has risen since the end of the last glaciation.

While the recent weather has exposed forgotten lands, it also is taking away land, as Britain is facing the disturbing threat of sinkholes warns the British Geological Survey, which has been studying a recent flurry of collapses across the country. In a typical year, we would expect to see one or two sinkholes appearing, but February 2014 has already seen six. Some areas are more susceptible than others, depending on the type of rock involved. The country is in uncharted meteorological territory, the severe weather here coinciding with exceptionally cold weather in Canada and the U.S. linked by a jet stream.  

Photo Credit: Borth Community; Photo by Kristi Herbet