Morecambe Bay

Last updated

Official nameMorecambe Bay
Designated4 October 1996
Reference no.863 [1]

Morecambe Bay is a large estuary in northwest England, just to the south of the Lake District National Park. It is the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand in the United Kingdom, covering a total area of 120 sq mi (310 km2). In 1974, the second largest gas field in the UK was discovered 25 mi (40 km) west of Blackpool, with original reserves of over 7 trillion cubic feet (tcf) (200 billion cubic metres). At its peak, 15% of Britain's gas supply came from the bay but production is now in decline. It is also one of the homes of the high brown fritillary butterfly.


Natural features

A panorama of most of Morecambe Bay looking from east (bottom of photo) to west (top of photo). Barrow-in-Furness and Walney Island can be seen in the upper part of the photo and Lancaster and Morecambe are visible in the lower left-hand corner of the photo. Morecambebay pan.jpg
A panorama of most of Morecambe Bay looking from east (bottom of photo) to west (top of photo). Barrow-in-Furness and Walney Island can be seen in the upper part of the photo and Lancaster and Morecambe are visible in the lower left-hand corner of the photo.

The rivers Leven, Kent, Keer, Lune and Wyre drain into the Bay, with their various estuaries making a number of peninsulas within the bay. Much of the land around the bay is reclaimed, forming salt marshes used in agriculture. Morecambe Bay is also an important wildlife site, with abundant birdlife and varied marine habitats, and there is a bird observatory at Walney Island. The bay has rich cockle beds, which have been fished by locals for generations.

There are seven main islands in the bay, all to the west; Walney, Barrow, Sheep, Piel, Chapel, Foulney and Roa. Walney is substantially larger than the others, with its southern tip marking the north-western corner of the Bay. Sheep, Piel, Chapel and Foulney Islands are tidal and can be walked to at low tide with appropriate care. Local guidance should be sought if walking to Chapel or Piel islands as fast tides and quicksand can be extremely dangerous. Roa Island is linked to the mainland by a causeway, while Barrow Island has been connected to the mainland as part of the docks system at Barrow-in-Furness. [2]


Map of the northern part of Morecambe Bay Morecambe Bay OS map.png
Map of the northern part of Morecambe Bay

The extensive sandflats are the remains of a vast sandur or outwash plain established by meltwaters as the last ice age waned. Sea-level was still some 3m below present day levels at the start of the Holocene some 11,000 years ago. [3] [4]

The Greek geographer and astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (died c170 AD) referred in his writings to Morikambe eischusis as a location on Britain's west coast, lying between the Ribble and the Solway. The sixteenth-century scholar William Camden identified the locality as being near Silloth, hence the similar name of that bay but the eighteenth century antiquarian John Horsley who translated Ptolemy into English in 1732 favoured it being the bay on the then Lancashire/Cumberland border. In 1771 historian John Whitaker took up this latter suggestion [5] and the name appeared on maps subsequently. The first recorded to do so being one associated with Father Thomas West's Antiquities of Furness of 1774. Camden believed the name originated with two words meaning crooked sea whilst West offered up white/beautiful haven though current thought is that it refers to a curve of the sea. [6]

Morecambe Bay from Ulverston Morecambe Bay Ulverston.JPG
Morecambe Bay from Ulverston

There have been royally appointed local guides (holding the post of King's Guide to the Sands) for crossing the bay for centuries. This difficulty of crossing the bay added to the isolation of the land to its north which, due to the presence of the mountains of the Lake District, could only be reached by crossing these sands or by ferry, until the Furness Railway was built in 1857. This skirts the edge of the bay, crossing the various estuaries. The London-Glasgow railway also briefly runs alongside the bay - the only place where the West Coast Main Line actually runs alongside the coast.

The bay is notorious for its quicksand and fast moving tides. On the night of 5 February 2004, at least 21 Chinese illegal immigrant cockle pickers drowned after being cut off by the tides. [7] [8]

Morecambe Bay is also home to several of the UK's offshore wind farms: West of Duddon Sands, Burbo Bank, Walney, Barrow, and Ormonde.


Around 320,000 people live along the coastline of Morecambe Bay, [9] with the largest town being Barrow-in-Furness to the west. Morecambe was once a popular seaside holiday destination, whilst Barrow still relies on the seas for a large percentage of its economy in ship and submarine construction.

Barrow-in-Furness Cumbria56,700
Morecambe Lancashire34,800
Fleetwood Lancashire25,900
Ulverston Cumbria11,200
Heysham Lancashire8,500
Grange-over-Sands Cumbria4,000

Natural gas

Rampside Gas Terminal Barrow Gas Terminal - - 360715.jpg
Rampside Gas Terminal
Morecambe Bay at low tide from Hest Bank, looking towards Grange-over-Sands Across-morecambe-bay-at-low-tide.jpg
Morecambe Bay at low tide from Hest Bank, looking towards Grange-over-Sands

The bay has Britain's second-largest natural gas field, [10] in the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone with a seal of Mercia Mudstone [11] and a Carboniferous source. [10] The South Morecambe Field, covering an area of 32 sq mi (83 km2), was discovered in 1974 and the first gas came ashore in 1985. [12] The North Morecambe Field, found in 1976, 8 mi (13 km) to the north, is 11 sq mi (28 km2) and started production in 1994. [12] Both are operated by Centrica Energy. [12] They are 25 mi (40 km) west of Blackpool in 30 metres of water; [12] the top of the gas reservoir is at a depth of just 900 m (3,000 ft), necessitating slant drilling for the first time in European waters. [11] The combined gas reserves on discovery were estimated at 179 billion cubic metres (6.45 trillion cubic feet (tcf)). [12] A further 0.65tcf is recognised in the satellite fields of Bains, Calder (Rivers), Dalton, Millom East and Millom West, and a number of smaller fields have been identified. [12]

The gas is landed at three terminals at Westfield Point in Barrow-in-Furness, collectively referred to as the Rampside Gas Terminal. [12] The South Morecambe Central Processing Complex is connected via a 36-inch pipeline to the South Morecambe terminal. [12] North Morecambe gas has a different composition so the unmanned Drilling and Production Platform is linked by a separate 36" wet sealine to the North Morecambe Terminal, where it is stripped of water, CO2 and nitrogen. [12] The Rivers Terminal has a dedicated pipeline for sour gas from the Calder field, which must be stripped of hydrogen sulphide before processing by the North Morecambe Terminal. [12] The hydrogen sulphide is converted to sulphuric acid which is sold for industrial use. In 1991 a 229 MW CCGT power plant was opened near the terminals, on the site of the former coal-fired Roosecote Power Station. There is a support base at Heysham Port and personnel are typically moved by helicopter from Blackpool International Airport. [12] Five rig workers and the two pilots of a Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin were lost when it crashed in sight of the platform on 27 December 2006. [13]

At peak production 15% of UK supply came from the two main fields. [12] As of 2006 Centrica reckoned there was about 1.2tcf of economic gas remaining in them, and they planned to operate the fields for another 10–15 years. [12] In June 2011 they announced the South Morecambe field would be suspended as a result of tax increases in the 2011 Budget which meant South Morecambe would be paying a rate of 81% tax; North Morecambe and Rivers would continue in production [14] as they are taxed at 62%. [15] Production resumed from the South Morecambe field in July 2011. [16]

Bridge proposal

The Donghai Bridge in Shanghai, China has a similar structure to the proposed Morecambe Bay Bridge. Donghai Bridge.jpg
The Donghai Bridge in Shanghai, China has a similar structure to the proposed Morecambe Bay Bridge.

Discussions as to whether to build a road bridge over the bay have been ongoing for decades, particularly in the more isolated north of the bay. The most recent suggestion was of a "green bridge", flanked by wind turbines and using tidal power to mitigate the environmental damage of its construction. [17] The bridge would be 12 mi (19 km) long making it the longest bridge in Europe and temporarily creating over 10,000 high paid jobs. It would stretch from Heysham to Barrow-in-Furness, at the bay's mouth. The bridge would cut journey times from the M6 to Barrow from nearly an hour, to just 22 minutes, with 60% less fuel consumption. Feasibility studies are ongoing, though over two years since this version of the bridge was proposed, little progress has been made. In the 2005 general election, Timothy Bell polled just 1.1% of the votes in the Barrow and Furness constituency for the Build Duddon and Morecambe Bay Bridges Party.

Abandoned car in Morecambe Bay, 1,300 ft (400 m) from the shore Morecambe Bay, abandoned car.jpg
Abandoned car in Morecambe Bay, 1,300 ft (400 m) from the shore

A lease has been granted for developing two wind turbine sites in the bay, one at Walney Island and the other at Cleveleys. Together these will have around 50 turbines.

The project's backers, Bridge Across the Bay Ltd., have compared the proposed bridge's importance to that of the Øresundsbron (the Øresund Bridge) near Copenhagen and the Angel of the North. It is thought planning could be granted by 2018, with work starting the following year, at a cost of £8 billion. [18] [19]

Cultural reference

The poetical illustration, Lancaster, by Letitia Elizabeth Landon relates a tragic incident on the dangerous sands in the neighbourhood, which must be those of Morecambe Bay.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heysham</span> Coastal town in Lancashire, England

Heysham is a coastal town in Lancashire, England, overlooking Morecambe Bay. It is a ferry port, with services to the Isle of Man and Ireland, and the site of two nuclear power stations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barrow-in-Furness</span> Town in Cumbria, North-West England

Barrow-in-Furness is a port town in Cumbria, England. Historically in Lancashire, it was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1867 and merged with Dalton-in-Furness Urban District in 1974 to form the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness. At the tip of the Furness peninsula, close to the Lake District, it is bordered by Morecambe Bay, the Duddon Estuary and the Irish Sea. In 2011, Barrow's population was 56,745, making it the second largest urban area in Cumbria after Carlisle. Natives of Barrow, as well as the local dialect, are known as Barrovian.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Furness</span>

Furness is a peninsula and region of Cumbria in northwestern England. Together with the Cartmel Peninsula it forms North Lonsdale, historically an exclave of Lancashire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Piel Island</span> Tidal island in Cumbria, United Kingdom

Piel Island lies in Morecambe Bay, around 12 mile off the southern tip of the Furness peninsula in the administrative county of Cumbria, England. It is one of the Islands of Furness, three of which sit near to Piel at the mouth of Walney Channel. The island is the location of Piel Castle, built by the monks of Furness Abbey in the fourteenth century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Islands of Furness</span>

The Islands of Furness are situated to the south-west and east of the Furness Peninsula. Within England, they are the third biggest collection of islands. They are generally quite small, though at 12.99 km2 Walney Island is the eighth biggest in England. Of these, only Walney Island, Barrow Island, Roa Island and Piel Island are inhabited. The majority of the islands lie within the boundary of the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness, with some 15,000 residents constituting 20% of the district's population. They are the largest group of islands between Anglesey in Wales and the Firth of Clyde in Scotland.

Roa Island lies just over half a mile (1 km) south of the village of Rampside at the southernmost point of the Furness Peninsula in Cumbria, though formerly in the county of Lancashire north of the sands. It is located at 54°5′N3°10′W. It is one of the Islands of Furness in northern England. It has an area of about three hectares.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walney Island</span> Island in the United Kingdom

Walney Island, also known as the Isle of Walney, is an island off the west coast of England, at the western end of Morecambe Bay in the Irish Sea. It is part of Barrow-in-Furness, separated from the mainland by Walney Channel, which is spanned by the Jubilee Bridge. Walney is the largest island of the Furness Islands group, both in population and size, as well as the largest English island in the Irish Sea. Its population at the 2011 UK Census was 10,651, distributed evenly across the island's two Wards of Walney North and Walney South.

Sheep Island is an uninhabited grassy island of around 15 acres (6 ha), located just over 14 mile (400 m) from the shore of Walney Island, opposite Snab Point. It is one of the Islands of Furness and is in the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria in north-west England. The island's geographic location is, using the British national grid reference system, SD215639.

Foulney Island is a low-lying grass and shingle area 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south-east of Roa Island, off the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula in Cumbria, England. Foulney Island is one of the Islands of Furness in Morecambe Bay, northern England. For local government purposes the island is in the borough of Barrow-in-Furness. It has an area of about 40 acres. In earlier times it was known as Fowle Island.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roose</span> Human settlement in England

Roose or Roosecote is a suburb and ward of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England. The word 'roose' is Celtic for "moor" or "heath" and the suffix 'cote' of Roosecote means "hut" or "huts". Before the building of Roose Cottages and the arrival of the Cornish miners Roose was pronounced with a hard S, as in goose; now it is locally pronounced 'Rooze', due to the Cornish accent. Roose is served by Roose railway station, one of the few remaining stations on the Furness Line in the Barrow area.

Rampside Human settlement in England

Rampside is a village in Cumbria, England. Historically in Lancashire, it is located a few miles south-east of the town of Barrow-in-Furness, in the north-western corner of Morecambe Bay on the Furness peninsula.

The Ulverstone [sic] and Lancaster Railway Company was short-lived as a business but the line that it built is still in daily use. The line runs from Lindal-in-Furness to Carnforth where it joins what was then the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. The intermediate stations are: Cark and Cartmel, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands, Arnside and Silverdale.

Rough is a natural gas storage facility under the North Sea off the east coast of England. It is capable of storing 100 billion cubic feet of gas, nearly double the storage capacities in operation in Great Britain in 2021.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barrow Offshore Wind Farm</span> Offshore wind farm in the East Irish Sea near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England

The Barrow Offshore Wind Farm is a 30 turbine 90MW capacity offshore wind farm in the East Irish Sea approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) south west of Walney Island, near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irish Sea</span> Sea between Ireland and Great Britain

The Irish Sea is an extensive body of water that separates the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. It is linked to the Celtic Sea in the south by St George's Channel and to the Inner Seas off the West Coast of Scotland in the north by the North Channel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rampside Gas Terminal</span> Gas terminal in Rampside Road , Barrow-in-Furness

Rampside Gas Terminal is a gas terminal situated in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria on the Irish Sea coast. It connects to gas fields in Morecambe Bay. It is situated adjacent to the former Roosecote Power Station.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Port of Barrow</span> Port in United Kingdom

The Port of Barrow refers to the enclosed dock system within the town of Barrow-in-Furness, England. Morecambe Bay is to the east of the port and the Irish Sea surrounds it to the south and west. The port is currently owned and operated by Associated British Ports Holdings, but some land is shared with BAE Systems Submarine Solutions. Currently consisting of four large docks, the Port of Barrow is one of North West England's most important ports. The docks are as follows: Buccleuch Dock, Cavendish Dock, Devonshire Dock and Ramsden Dock. The port of Barrow is the only deep water port between the Mersey and the Clyde.

The following is a timeline of the history of Barrow-in-Furness, England, United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bay Cycle Way</span> Cycle route around Morecambe Bay in NW England

The Bay Cycle Way is an 80-mile (130 km) cycling route around Morecambe Bay in Lancashire and Cumbria in north west England. Most of it forms National Cycle Route 700, while other sections are waymarked as NCN 6, NCN 69 and NCN 70.

The Morecambe gas fields are two major natural gas producing fields in Morecambe Bay in the Irish Sea, 27 km west of Blackpool.


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Coordinates: 54°06′18″N02°58′30″W / 54.10500°N 2.97500°W / 54.10500; -2.97500