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.
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 years 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 (its 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 the 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.