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.

White Cliffs birds eye view for blog post - credit National Trust John Miller-1

This stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover was acquired by the National Trust in 2012

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.

Forecast Changeable

A wind-shattered tree on the shores of Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria.

A wind-shattered tree on the shores of Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/David Noton.


Climate change poses the single biggest threat to National Trust places, bringing new, damaging impacts to a natural and cultural environment already under pressure, and a growing conservation challenge to our houses and gardens. Find out what we’re doing and how it’s affecting our places in our new report, Forecast Changeable: Forecast Changeable Report

Autumn review

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Autumn colours at the end of October in Serpentine Wood at Calke Abbey. Credit Susan Guy.

Matthew Oates, nature and wildlife specialist, looks back on the effects of a mild autumn on our wildlife:

Autumn has been incredibly mild, to date.  The south has had a single light frost, a windscreen affair on October 25th. It has also been dry, everywhere – with a drought in Northern Ireland – until the autumn rains arrived, perhaps with a vengeance, after the warmest November day on record (the 1st).

In consequence, many summer plants are flowering in garden and countryside.  Even tender summer annuals, such as Nasturtiums, are persisting.  In the wild some high summer plants have sprung back into bloom, notably the brambles.  Also, many of spring’s flowers are evident, again in both garden and countryside – especially Primrose, violets, Wild Strawberry and, most noticeably, the garden Viburnums.

Insects have lingered long into the autumn. Speckled Wood butterflies made it into November in numbers over much of southern Britain, and dragonflies, moths and crickets and grasshoppers have also persisted well. This year it will be the rains, rather than the frosts, that kill them off.

The leaves came off on time, with the exception of the Ash which dropped somewhat early in many districts. The maples flamed deep red this year.

Now, Fieldfare and Redwing seem unusually numerous, perhaps because poor weather in Scandinavia and Russia has pushed them deep into their wintering grounds.

It seems likely that the first part of the winter, at least, will be mild and wet, and perhaps stormy.

National Trust calls for urgent action to manage threats to our coastline

The National Trust is calling for urgent action from Government and agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure all coastal areas are ready for the enormous challenges presented by severe storms and rising sea levels.

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire. Credit Joe Cornish

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire. Credit Joe Cornish

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Ground-breaking mapping project reveals 50 years of land use change along the coast

  • Original survey carried out in 1965 to highlight the impact of development on our coastline has been updated to reveal land use changes
  • 94% of coastline considered to be ‘pristine’ 50 years ago is now protected through the National Trust or through the planning system
  • While three quarters (74%) of the coast remains undeveloped, urban/built-up areas have increased by 42% (17,557 hectares), adding the equivalent of a city the size of Manchester to our coastline
Sunset over Wembury Point, near Plymouth, Devon.

Sunset over Wembury Point, near Plymouth, Devon. Credit National Trust

One of the biggest mapping projects of the 20th century has been repeated fifty years on by the National Trust to understand how the way that land is used along the coast has changed since 1965.

The report, released today by the conservation charity, finds that overall the modern planning system has worked with development contained and directed to the most suitable locations. However, it also warns against complacency and highlights the need, too, for a marine planning system that effectively manages the competing priorities at the coast.

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Renowned poet helps us celebrate coast

Punk Poet, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, has collaborated with the National Trust to pen the start of a new poem highlighting to the nation the powerful emotions our diverse coastline can convey and the care that is needed to protect it. The release of the poem will kick-start a summer-long campaign to encourage people to share their love for the awe-inspiring beaches, cliff tops, piers and more that make this island nation.

Renowned poet Dr John Cooper Clarke has written the final verses of the Nation’s Ode to the Coast, a new poem celebrating the nation’s enduring love affair with our beautiful coastline, with the help of coastal memories and stories you shared.

We invited you to help Clarke complete his poem, which he started earlier this year, over the summer. The poem takes inspiration from over 11,500 contributions and to mark the launch of the final ode we’ve created a film featuring 17 people who shared why they love the coast.

The poem marks 50 years of our successful Neptune Coastline Campaign. Thanks to the people-powered campaign we look after 775 miles of coastline from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Gower Peninsula, the Jurassic Coast to the Giant’s Causeway.  Continue reading

The sounds of our shores

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Imogen Tinkler, communications intern for the National Trust, looks back at some of the highlights from the ‘Sounds of our shores’ project

After three months, over 680 uploads and around 67,000 listens, the ‘Sounds of Our Shores’ project in collaboration with the British Library and the National Trust for Scotland has come to a close.

As well as encouraging people to get out and explore the seaside, the aim of this coastal sound map was to create a ‘snapshot’ of the UK coastline that could be preserved for future generations. Yet the sounds that we have received not only create a sense of what our shores sound like in 2015, but also reveal much about our relationship with the coast.

Waves crash against the rocks at Heddon's Mouth, North Devon.

Waves crash against the rocks at Heddon’s Mouth, North Devon. Credit National Trust.

One discovery we’ve made through this project is the sheer diversity of sounds that can be heard near the sea. On the soundmap, the classic noises of seagulls and waves breaking on the shore sit alongside some more unusual contributions, such as the roar of ‘The Deluge’ chain flush inside the (now disused) ornate Victorian toilets on Rothesay seafront in Glasgow.   Continue reading