Town mourns loss of golden sands of Tenby

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Nick Schoon

Tenby is a town in mourning, for the loss of its natural beauty and, perhaps, of the summer visitors which are its lifeblood.

"It's just like a massive bereavement,"Maureen Ward, Mayor of Tenby Town Council, said. "Tourism and holidays are really our only business."

The pretty, pastel-painted town's North Beach, a swathe of yellow sand at the bottom of cliffs, looked like a broad road on which the tarmac had not set. Out to sea for 50 yards lay a band of thick brown and black oil which stretched along miles of coastline on the western side of Carmarthen Bay and beyond.

The small waves of a calm sunny day tried to break through the oil, but most of them gave up before they could reach the shore.

In Tenby's small harbour next to the beach a couple of dozen council staff and contractors were sucking off the oil by using equipment to suck it into tankers. One could not help thinking of King Canute confronting the tide.

On the pier, oiled scoter ducks were being collected for cleaning. Townspeople looked forlornly from the cliffs and muttered about the shame of it all.

More beach cleaners were working on the larger and less heavily polluted Tenby South Beach. In all, some 250 staff from six local councils are working at sites scattered around 130 miles of polluted coastline, much of it in Britain's only seaside National Park. Every road-gully cleaning vehicle in South Wales, some 60 of them, has been pressed into service.

Ms Ward, a political independent who runs an animal rescue centre in her home is unimpressed. "They're not using the volunteers who are clamouring to help. They haven't touched North Beach for two days. It's not happening fast enough."

Tenby is the biggest resort on the Pembrokeshire coast and one of Britain's very few walled seaside towns. Its population of 4,900 swells to 54,000 in high summer, Ian Bell, chairman of the Pembrokeshire Hotels and Restaurants Association, said.

"It's a disaster, but we're confident that by the summer there will be clean seas and beaches - come and see," said Mr Bell, who runs a 50-room hotel in next door Saundersfoot.

The Wales Tourist Board has set up a helpline for worried holidaymakers to ring; it will tell callers about the progress of the clean-up and will be optimistic.

Yesterday, the board's chief executive, John French, asked the Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, for money to pay for advertising and publicity campaigns abroad which would put the oil spill "in context" and dwell on inland leisure pursuits. "People in Germany are starting to think all Wales is ruined," a spokeswoman said.

The Tourist Board said that there had only been a trickle of holiday cancellations so far. But the key holiday-booking period is now, and one of the region's biggest industries is fearful that people will turn away.