What the coast means to me: Phil Dyke

Last time in this series, our Brand & Marketing Director, Clare Mullin, told us what the coast means to her. This week Howard Bristol asks Phil Dyke why Messack Point is important to him, and what impact it has had on his work as the National Trust’s Coast and Marine Advisor.

What is your favourite coastal location?

That’s a tricky one. I always think that there are two different types of people: there are those who like open coastlines and those who like enclosed estuary landscapes. I’m definitely an estuary person. And where I live in Cornwall, Messack Point within the Carrick Roads on the Fal estuary, is my particular favourite.

The view from Messack Point, as photographed by Phil Dyke

The view from Messack Point, photographed by Phil Dyke

What is special about this landscape?

What’s interesting about the Carrick Roads is that it is proper sea – deep water, with a 6m tidal range – and yet it has shoreline on three sides, so you get a very evident change of landscape twice a day as the tide ebbs and floods. Not only does this reveal a submerged landscape, attracting birds which feed on the mud, but you also see marine species which struggle when the sea is out, but have developed strategies so they don’t get cooked when exposed to the air and sun. From Messack Point, you get a tremendous view over Carrick Roads. Boats are allowed to dredge oysters on the Roads – but only under sail or oar – which provides a wonderful scene and an example of sustainable fishing.

What does this place mean to you?

Messack Point is a place I can go with family, with friends, or on my own. I find it interesting to discover the different layers of social history. In the early 20th century, the East side of the Carrick Roads, including Messack Point, had been earmarked to become a major transatlantic port rivalling Southampton, and they had been going to build a train line down the coast. Plans were put in place twice, but each time the estuary had a narrow escape. For me, this gives a sense of what could have been, and I can appreciate Messack Point’s charmed existence.

The Carrick Roads seen from Trelissick Garden, Cornwall

Unspoilt: the Carrick Roads seen from Trelissick Garden, Cornwall

The estuary is home to some amazing marine wildlife, too. Maerl coral beds make the Carrick Roads a hotspot for marine bio-diversity. Maerl beds support eel grass ‘meadows’, which are the marine equivalent of an ancient woodland – they take a long time to establish, but provide a wonderful refuge for small fish and even cold water seahorses.

How do you think this has shaped your work as Coast & Marine Advisor?

That’s a really interesting question. The National Trust’s acquisition of Messack Point showed me the difference the Trust can make. The 200 acres of coastline we bought had had no public access, so we put in footpaths, and opened the coast for everyone to enjoy. But the Trust did other things, too, such as burying overhead cables underground, and removing some unsightly 1960s agricultural buildings. This was a clear example, for me, of how the National Trust’s intervention can bring about permanent protection, great access, and nature conservation for our coast.

The Carrick Roads south of Trelissick Garden, Cornwall

The Carrick Roads south of Trelissick Garden, Cornwall

Why do you think the coast is a special place for so many people?

I think it has something to do with the fact that most people are introduced to the seaside at an early age. This experience of the coast makes such a strong impression on us when we’re young – and we never lose that connection, so that every trip to the seaside gives us the chance to rediscover our inner child.

  • If you love the coast and would like to tell us why it is important to you, feel free to add your own comments at the end of this post.
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