Saving our shores

50 years ago today the Neptune Coastline Campaign was launched by the National Trust. Unbeknown to the founders of this campaign it would over the course of five decades transform the ownership of the coast around our shores.

Whiteford Burrows on Gower in South Wales; the first ever site acquired by the National Trust as part of its Neptune Coastline Campaign

Whiteford Burrows on Gower in South Wales; the first ever site acquired by the National Trust as part of its Neptune Coastline Campaign

The coast is deeply embedded in the DNA of the National Trust. Its first ever patch of land was a small coastal cliff near Barmouth in north Wales. There were some key acquisitions in the following three decades: the stunning Blakeney Point in 1912 and the one and only Farne Islands in 1925.

Yet it was 1965 that led to a game changing direction of travel for the Trust on the coast. The concept behind Neptune was very simple and had a clear call to action.

The coast was under threat from development and industrialisation and to save hundreds of miles of the beautiful coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland a major new fundraising appeal was launch.

An initial target of two million pounds was unveiled in the late spring of 1965 and in the subsequent fifty years tens of millions of pounds has been reached thanks to the support of people from across the globe. A group of geographers from the University of Reading helped to map the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland on a scale not seen since the Doomsday book; giving the Trust a clear sense of which bits of coast needed to be saved.

This has been a truly people powered revolution allowing a conservation charity to take its coastal ownership from just over 200 miles to 775 miles today (that’s ten per cent of the coast of the three nations). Since 1965 the Trust has been acquiring an average of around one mile of coastline every month including the world famous White Cliffs of Dover, much of the gorgeous Gower in south Wales and much loved Wembury just outside Plymouth.

At Studland in Dorset a big donation to the Trust coastal campaign by the Bankes family (the biggest in the charity’s history) meant that this special place was secured for future generations to enjoy. Pockets of development had begun to pop up and there is no doubt that Sandbanks would have spread westwards across the mouth of Poole Harbour. A million people every year now come to Sandbanks, a classic British beach.

We have a deep connection to the coast in the UK. As island nations the shoreline has shaped our identity and every year there is a mass migration to the coast for bucket and spade holidays or walking along the coastline. It’s a very sensory place: the touch of the sand between your toes, the sounds of our shores and the smell of fish and chips.

Time and time again we’re drawn to the coast and we put a very high value on its importance to us (think how many people have something from the coast in their house). It would be a very different place if it wasn’t for the crystal clear vision of the founders of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.

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