Tag Archives: coastline

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.

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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.

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.

Coastal entente cordiale

50 years ago the National Trust set up the Neptune Coastline Campaign. It was a key moment in the story of the conservation charity as it identified the need to have a clear strategic plan for protecting the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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 pressures on the coast were huge from development and industrialisation. Our relationship with the coast had been slowly changing from a working relationship and one of the fear of invasion to the coast being seen as a place to visit for leisure (linked to the spread of the rail network and the arrival of paid annual leave). More of us wanted to go and take the sea air and there was a need to protect the natural beauty of our diverse and varied coastline.

In essence this meant buying vast tracts of coastline including the White Cliffs of Dover, Studland in Dorset, the Black beaches in Durham and much of the Gower in South Wales.

Ten yeas later in 1975 this pioneering model based around acquiring coast made it across the English Channel with the setting up of the Conservatoire du Littoral. Whereas the National Trust is a charity the Conservatoire is a Government body funded by licenses from boats moored around the French coast. But both have a shared common purpose; tapping into the respective national love of the coastline.

It’s intriguing to think that the Trust model of working on the coast inspired the French to take a hard long look at how they protect their own coast. You can see many of the pressures on the French coastline, especially on the Cote D’azur, in terms of development.

Ideas have a habit of flowing between nations and the double anniversary in 2015 provides a chance to reflect on the goals of the two organisations.

In the last fifty years the Trust has acquired 550 miles of coastline; taking its total ownership to more than 10 per cent of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish coastline. The Conservatoire now manages 13 per cent of the French coastline (it’s remit also includes French overseas territories).

Acquisition remains at the heart of the Conservatoire strategy: with a target to double its ownership by 2050. For the National Trust new models are being tested, such as managing rather than owning coast, and there is a focus on consolidation and adding pieces to the missing coastal jigsaw.

However – both organisations are focusing firmly on the realities of a changing climate. The coast is often at the forefront of massive and rapid change. This has been shown by the huge impact of winter storms in the last decade; with cliff collapse, dunes becoming even more mobile and the loss of beaches.

Thinking long term and planning is key to dealing with the changes happening and coming our way. It’s about innovation and sharing best practice across the channel: focused on the need for adaptation.

As two nations linked by geography, culture, history and the movement of people it feels fitting that our relationship with the coast has followed similar routes in terms of protecting these special places.