The battle to maintain the harbour at Mullion Cove

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Discover more about the history and our work at Mullion Cove, including the conservation issues that we face due to rising sea levels, brought on by climate change.

The history of the cove

The tiny harbour at Porth Mellin (Mullion Cove), was built in the 1890s by Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock to shelter the pilchard fleet.

The pilchard industry - so important to the Cornish economy during the 18th and 19th century - never fully recovered from several disastrous fishing seasons. Mullion fishermen instead built up a thriving crab and lobster industry. Fishing was a precarious way to earn a living and many seamen would also do other jobs. Smuggling in particular flourished in this area.

Our presence at Mullion Cove

We took ownership of Mullion Harbour in 1945. The harbour still supports a small fishing community, with a few boats landing mainly shellfish. However, most people visit the cove for recreation and quiet enjoyment.

We work year-round to protect the harbour and repair damage caused by the wild weather that this exposed piece of coast is often subjected to. In recent years, however mounting costs of maintenance and repair, set against rising sea levels, increased storminess and an aging structure have made us re-think our strategy.

The cost of the winter storms

Facing west into the prevailing winds, the harbour is exposed to the full fury of winter gales. Averaged out over the past twenty years, over £1500 a week has been spent on repeatedly repairing and strengthening the harbour walls.

A recently completed study - commissioned by the Trust and with a group of stakeholders and other harbour owners actively involved- showed that with forecasted climate change, predicted sea level rises and increased winter storm activity, damage to the harbour is likely to increase. Following recommendations made by the study, we will continue to maintain the harbour and undertake minor repairs but that at some point in the future as sever storms continue to inflict damage, a tipping point will be reached where it will be necessary to call a halt to further work.

At this point, with the involvement of local authorities and English Heritage, repairs would not be undertaken but the harbour walls might be consolidated to preserve most of the structure for as long as possible.