How has our coastline changed in 50 years? New NT report

Our new Mapping our Shores report takes a long term look at coastal land use and celebrates the success of the planning system – and the generosity of National Trust supporters – in helping to protect much of it from development.

Mapping our Shores - National Trust, October 2015

Mapping our Shores – National Trust, October 2015

In 1965, concerned about the impact of development along the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we launched our Neptune Coastline Campaign to help us raise money to buy and protect further stretches of the coast.

That summer we commissioned the University of Reading to survey how land along the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland was being used and find out which areas were most at risk from development. Fifty years on, we’ve resurveyed the coast to see what’s changed.

As Peter Nixon, our Director of Land, Landscapes and Nature says:

“50 years after we launched our Neptune campaign, most of the UK coast remains undeveloped. Our coastline has been spared the sort of sprawling development that other countries have suffered.

“This is a moment to pause and celebrate the generosity and passion of our supporters, and the value of a robust planning system in securing a coastline that people can access and enjoy. National Trust ownership provides unique permanent protection of the coastline to benefit people and nature, and there is a continuing need for us to raise funds for this. But we also know that 90% of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland agree that it’s important that the planning system works to protect the beauty of our coastline, and long may that continue.”

You can find out more about how land use has changed at coastal places you love and which matter to you via our interactive Mapping our Shores website.

A planning process for the future

Both the 1965 and recent survey illustrate the importance of a robust and well-enforced planning process. We hope the findings will encourage partnership working within and between local communities, landowners and policy makers in order to maintain a sustainable and beautiful coast for the next 50 years.

On what the future holds, Peter Nixon says “We must also look out to sea where the challenges are much greater. As the need for offshore development increases, the new marine planning process must be as effective and rigorous as the planning system on land has become.”

Along with helping to ensure the coastline is protected from inappropriate development we’ll remain dedicated to providing access to the coast by working with others, while caring for its wildlife and heritage.

A ground-breaking mapping project

The 1965 survey would prove to be an epic journey around our shores. Dr John Whittow, who was then a professor at the University of Reading, led a team of students to walk 8,000 miles around the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

‘For the National Trust to establish a programme of acquisition at the coast it was essential to identify which sites needed protecting,’ said Whittow. ‘Over three months the intrepid surveyors and I set forth to tramp thousands of miles generating more than 350 field survey maps.’

A section from the 1965 mapping

A section from the 1965 mapping

Fifty years on

Half a century later, and coinciding with the 50th anniversary of our Neptune Coastline Campaign, we’ve resurveyed land use at the coast with the help of the University of Leicester.

Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of thousands of supporters our Neptune Coastline Campaign has raised more than £65 million since it was launched which means we now look after 775 miles of coastline – over 550 miles more than we did when the 1965 survey took place.

Identifying change

Our Mapping our Shores report shows that three quarters (76 per cent) of the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is an important resource for people and nature, remains undeveloped.

Much of the land that has remained undeveloped is now protected by landscape or nature conservation designations such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

In fact, of the 3,342 miles of coastline identified by our 1965 survey as ‘pristine’ and in need of protection, 94 per cent of this has some form of statutory protection.

Key findings

The report also found that there has been a 42 per cent increase in urban and built environments over the last 50 years. While this is a significant increase, the fact over three quarters of the coast remains undeveloped suggests that new development hasn’t sprawled along the coast as it might have without good planning.

Industrial areas along the coast have increased by 39 per cent, with sites moving geographically as the type of industry has changed. Meanwhile the use of land along the coast for defence has decreased by nearly a quarter (24 per cent), showing a shift from the post-war era of 1965.

Change in land use type from 1965 to 2014 (hectares)

Change in land use type from 1965 to 2014 (hectares)

Read about the findings of the two surveys by downloading our Mapping our Shores report.

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