Category Archives: coast

Re-charging the batteries at the coast

Clambering over some awesome rocks, revealed by a low tide, on Crackington Haven in north Cornwall on a breezy winter’s day reminded me that time spent at the coast can be a real tonic. For most Brits a trip to the seaside is a summer activity travelling to crowded coastal towns or packed beaches, full of a real buzz.  But going to the seaside out of season can show you the coastline in a new light.

The beach at Hunts Bay

Listening to the waves is a lovely way to feel calm and relaxed

I have always been a massive fan of the UK’s coast. As a kid I spent many a happy hour pottering around Dawlish Warren in Devon and more recently rock pooling with my son and daughter is probably top of my coastal pops (there is something so relaxing and joyful about staring at a small pool of water to find some crabs lurking in the seaweed or small fish swimming at speed to find cover).

A winter trip to the coastline (and we’re never really that far from it) is a must to keep you topped up with fresh air through the shorter days as the arrival of spring can be almost smelt with the blossoming of nature. It’s also somewhere where you can just do nothing in particular, wandering along sandy beaches, collecting shells or sea glass, or staring out to sea. Yes the British climate can make a day at the seaside an interesting one but kiting yourself out with waterproofs and warm cloths prepares you for almost anything.

Cycling along the Camel Trail to Padstow was a real battery charging experience. The light seemed to change every minute as the tide started to flow in the creeks and upstream and the calls of the wading birds created a wonderful soundscape to the pedalling. My daughter’s rosy cheeks summed up the simple joy of cycling by the seaside.

Spending time at the coast is magical and the unpredictably of the weather adds some spice to those days out. Winter time with the low sun and the thought of a wood burning stove in a local pub after a coastal walk is just as good and probably more atmospheric that a day at the coast in the height of summer.

Sounds of our life…

As I type four young swifts have been spending days flying round in circles getting ready for their long trip south. I know this because of the distinctive screeching sound as they fly creating a re-assuring soundtrack to the summer. Its a sound that I love listening too every year and never tire of hearing.

Sounds play such an important part in our lives and yet as we dash from A to B or are plugged into digital devices there is a real risk of us losing that sonic connection with the world around us. Yes there is a lot of white noise out there but if you take the time to listen its amazing what you can hear.

The beach at Hunts Bay

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

Last year I was involved with a project called Sounds of our Shores. It was all about recording some of those familiar sounds from the seaside – the lapping waves, walking along a pebble beach or the richness of a Island of seabirds. The one thing that it taught me was to take the time to just stop and listen. Tuning into a day at the seaside means that you’ll see and hear a place anew; noticing things that you’ve never noticed before.

Because most of us live in towns and cities many people would rather tune out of their daily soundtrack – the potential endless noise of daily life. Sometimes it can seem that the only day of quiet is on Christmas Day, if you’re lucky. But if you peel back the layers you can start to listen out for more natural sounds: the wind gently blowing in the wind, rain falling on windows or the sweet melody of a blackbird.

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A tree full of starlings in full voice

When I walk the twenty odd minutes to the station I will always listen out for different sounds. Sometimes a birds song will stop me in my tracks as I try to locate it in a tree. It might be the shouts of joy as kids play football in a park or even the gently hum of a lawn mower.

So where-ever you live why not try and take some time out of your daily routine to listen out for familiar or new sounds. It will enrich your life and help you build up your own soundscape.

We don’t want a rubbish coast

There is something very sad about seeing a beach littered with pink plastic bottles. Last week Poldhu beach in West Cornwall became the latest victim of stuff floating around in our seas. Yes this might have come from a container that disappeared over the side of a ship but it’s symbolic of our often casual attitude the oceans.

poldhupollution Steve Haywood

After an overnight high tide last week National Trust staff and volunteers were met with hundreds more pink detergent bottles washed up at Poldhu and Gunwalloe in West Cornwall. Over a thousand were cleared from Poldhu beach this morning, and the local opinion is that numbers are increasing not tailing off. The pink bottles are now also being found in Mount’s Bay, to the west of Poldhu.

Marine waste is a big issue. Our seas are full of the stuff. And the impact can be felt in terms of how our beaches look and the wildlife that calls the seaside that we all love home. Think of the last time that you were at the coast and some of the disregarded rubbish strewn along a beach. I remember being on a beautiful beach in south Pembrokeshire which was full of disregarded fishing nets; not a great experience for families and potentially lethal for seabirds.

A few years back the Head Ranger on the Farne Islands tweeted a picture of a seabird that he’d found tangled in a balloon. For this bird it would get a second chance but for many others they don’t. The picture quite rightly provoked a lot of concern about what is happening along our coastline.

Teams of coastal Rangers and volunteers help to keep our beaches clean. Their tireless efforts mean that we can enjoy beaches free of litter and sometimes potentially nasty surprises. The beach cleans that happen on a regular basis are a good indicator of the sheer volume of rubbish and the scale of the problem.

We can all do our bit to make sure that our waste footprint along the coast is zero (if there are no bins just take it home and don’t casually chuck your rubbish somewhere that people might not see it). And there needs to be more of an effort by Government to make sure that marine litter is reduced and that shipping and boats think about how they deal with their rubbish.

It really is rubbish to find a favourite beach or a spectacular stretch of coastline blighted by litter. Loads of people are keeping our coast special by helping to clear it up and we need to make sure that we’re not adding to the problem.

 

Rock pool heaven

“Dad, I’ve caught a crab, I’ve caught one, come quickly”. The sound of my excited 8 year-old daughter rock pooling on Bantham beach in south Devon as the first crab of the day is scooped up and popped into a bucket.

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

There is something magical and timeless about rock pooling. As the tide drifts out a secret and accessible marine world is revealed, firing the imagination and creating a real sense of adventure. All sorts of creatures are trapped in little watery bolt holes. The coming and going of the tides sculpturing the rocks into perfect little places for sea water to get trapped for a few hours until the next tide comes in.

I’ve always loved looking in rock pools. They can evoke powerful memories of days spent at the seaside.  You can get lost in the hunt for crabs, small fish and lovely little shells, vacated by their residents. And with the unpredictability of the British weather its one of those activities that you can do, come rain or shine.

Armed with a bucket, spade and ideally a net you can have hours of fun exploring these little watery worlds along the coastline. Kids and their parents clamber and climb over the rocks looking in little shallow pools or deeper water where you have to compete with seaweed to find anything.

For me the architecture of rock pools is fascinating. From the steep sided rock pools of north Cornwall at places such as Godrevy or Porthmeor in St Ives to some of the low-lying pools in south Devon at South Milton sands. Becoming an honorary marine biologist for a few hours you’ll need some patience and a good dose of luck. I love the sitting and watching part, looking for the slightest movement from beneath a stone or behind some seaweed.

It was great watching kids fanning out along the rock pools, collecting their temporary treasures that will be returned to the sea, and then sharing their finds with other children; comparing notes of where they’d found things or heading off in little groups to search for more. You can never really get enough of rock pooling and every place that you visit is different enough to reveal something different.

Making waves

A few weeks ago I went on a walk along the southern side of Gower. The sky was full of heavy cloud and there were small glimpses of better weather in the distance.

This coastal wander was dominated by the soundtrack of the sea and in particular the waves. At different spots you could tune in to the repetitive and reassuring sound of the waves lapping against the limestone cliffs or the tidy little beaches. Sometimes the sound was very faint and it was a bit like when you’re listening out for the claps of thunder when you’re counting the length of time between the bangs.

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

As we joined the old route into Swansea – a kind of cross between a footpath and drovers lane – you could hear the waves before you could see the coastline. The small wood either side of the path was filled with the sweet melodies of birdsong and as you descended from the hill-side the sound of the sea grew in intensity and clarity. And then through an opening you reached a beach – littered with stones from the old quarry. Hunts Bay is a sheltered little spot and the waves sounded just like you’d imagine waves would always sound.

Arriving at a beach like this took me back to the days of GCSE geography. This small bay with its stones and little summit before falling away into the sea is a lovely spot.

When on the beach I recorded the sounds of the waves. The full-on sound of the waves on with the direct impact on the sand and stones and then also the sounds from a sheltered spot next to the limestone cliffs. There was a clear difference in the sounds of the waves even though they were only a matter of metres apart.

For World Listening Day (Saturday 18 July) this year (the theme is water) as part of the sounds of our shores project we want as many people as possible to record the sounds of waves at noon. This will create a lovely snapshot, a kind of sonic postcard, of how waves sound and what differences that there might be. It will be interesting to see how the size of the stones affects the sounds of the waves or the nature of where the beach is – it might be a big open flat beach or a small narrow beach surrounded by sand dunes.

The sound of waves are so intrinsically linked to the sounds of our shores. There is something timeless and comforting about that sound as you first reach the coast – whether to spend a family day at the beach or walking along a coastal cliff.

A sonic postcard from the coast

Close your eyes for a minute. Think of a favourite place on the coast. Tune into your memory soundbank and start to imagine the sounds that fill the airwaves. It could be the sounds from the days spent at the coast as a kid when the day felt like it would never end. Or it might be a trip to a seabird colony clinging to the cliffs and creating an intense wall of sound.

Seaside towns are full of fascinating sounds

Seaside towns are full of fascinating sounds

There is something really powerful about the sounds of our shores. Our sensory experience of being by the sea can fill our life with powerful memories.

This summer the National Trust, British Library and the National Trust for Scotland wants people to record sounds from the whole coastline of the UK – helping to crowd source a sounds of our shores coastal sound map. And it’s not just the wild stretches of coast but the 15 per cent of coastline that is developed too – villages, towns and cities; ports, urban beaches or classic seaside towns.

It’s a project that aims to capture a snapshot of how our coast sounds and also a chance to reflect on the changing relationship that we have with the coastline.

The tapping of a bucket to create a sandcastle is a powerful sound of childhood. Me on a beach in Devon with my Gran

The tapping of a bucket to create a sandcastle is a powerful sound of childhood. Me on a beach in Devon with my Gran

In the last century the relationship that we have with the coast has been transformed. It has shifted from a place of work to a place that we go to play. Yes there is vibrancy still to the working coast – busy fishing harbours and mega sized container terminals – but for most of us it about those special places that we like to visit time and time again.

Recording sounds couldn’t be easier and it’s a great way of creating a sonic equivalent of a postcard or photo. And best of all the sounds that make it up on the coastal sound map will end up in the British Library Sound Archive (one of the biggest in the world no less).

So this summer use some of your screen time to record the sounds of our shores. You’ll be helping to crowd source for a project that will capture the sounds from the UK coast for future generations to hear.

A magical English seabird colony

As an island nation we have some pretty special islands around our shores. One of these islands which has stayed rooted in my memory since my first visit is the Farne Islands. I can still taste the salt water on my lips as the ferry sails across to the Farnes and the unrivaled views of the beautiful Northumberland coast.

Puffins on the National Trust's Farne Islands

Puffins on the National Trust’s Farne Islands

A couple of miles off of the Northumberland coast they have held generations of nature lovers spell-bound. The biggest seabird colony in England and a special place for seals, the Farne Islands is somewhere so rich in nature, with wonderful stories to tell; including memorably an otter that made it across treacherous seas a few years back. An incredible 23 out of the 25 seabirds found around our shoreline can be found on the Farne Islands.

My first encounter with the puffin was on this windswept Farne Islands out in the midst of the North Sea. Seeing them close up remains one of my nature highlights. These comical looking birds that live in burrows in the ground are so charismatic and there are literally thousands here, everywhere you look. And it was great to see the puffin charting at number 10 in the poll to find our national bird.

Another very visible feature of the Farne Islands is the terns – sandwich, common and artic terns. You can’t but see them. If you wander around inner Farne during the summer you’ll be bomb-barded by them, worried about the impact of people walking around the island. It’s a bit like a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock film. And remember to wear a hat.

this year its 90 years since the National Trust acquired the Farne Islands. Full-time rangers have only been on the Farnes since the 1970s and the pioneering research about seal tagging began on the islands back in the 1950s.

Seeing a seabird colony such as the Farne Islands up, close and personal is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. It’s the sights, sounds and smells that capture the imagination.