Earlier this week members of the Danish Parliament’s Environment and Food Committee visited the National Trust on the Isle of Wight to learn more about how the Trust manages coastal change. Here, Adam Royle, our Head of Advocacy, reflects on their visit.
For me, one of the most powerful things the National Trust can do is to take politicians and decision-makers out on site visits and to demonstrate the sheer beauty and value of the places we care for, but also to explain the pressures that these places face, and set out what we are doing to address these.
On Tuesday afternoon, as members of the Danish Parliament (or Folketing) peered over an eroding cliff edge in search of a fossilised Dinosaur footprint, I wondered if perhaps we might have taken this a step too far!
The Danish Environment and Food Committee were visiting Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight. As well as Committee members and staff, the Permanent Secretary of the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food was also present.
In January 2017 Denmark experienced significant coastal storm surges that caused flooding and some damage to property. The Danish Government is now considering a range of reforms to its coastal flooding and coastal change law and policy, and so as part of a visit to the UK, the Danish Environment Committee asked to see how the Trust manages coastal change issues.
The National Trust cares for 10% of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish coastline – or 775 miles of coast. The proportion is much higher in some areas, such as the Isle of Wight where around 1/3rd of the coastline is owned by the Trust.
Our approach to coastal change is set out in our policy document, Shifting Shores. The National Trust’s Coast and Marine Adviser Phil Dyke was on hand to set out how this policy works for our guests. Shifting Shores commits the Trust to working with natural processes and adapting to coastal change where we can – for instance by rolling back, moving buildings and infrastructure out of harm’s way, and creating new space for nature.
Our Isle of Wight General Manager Tony Tutton then took Committee members to see our policy in action. Compton Bay is an ecologically and paleontologically rich (not to mention visually stunning) sweep of coastline, but also one that is eroding at the rate of 1.5 metres a year.
In the future, the road that reaches this far western corner of the Isle of Wight will slip into the sea – it has been threatened by coastal retreat for decades. And the land we care for at Compton and Brook Bay will be lost too. Our existing car park at the Bay is being eroded, and to maintain access to the beach we’ve had to construct steps that can be easily moved.
In 2015 year we took the neighbouring Dunsbury Farm into our care, using funds from our Neptune Coastline Campaign. In anticipating the coastal changes that will affect this area we’re now looking to create a landscape rich in wildlife, which is both healthy and beautiful well into the future. In rolling back the Compton Bay coast we can make space for nature to flourish, and for people to continue to enjoy this landscape.
The Danish delegation were full of questions for the NT team, on areas such as national policy and law, the role of local councils, where funding for coastal work comes from and monitoring arrangements (with no Danish speakers in the NT team we had to reply on the delegation’s excellent translator!). One of the biggest sources of curiosity for the Danish delegation was the how the National Trust itself works, and how the support of our members and volunteers enables us to protect and improve special places for the long term.
Our guests left with smiles on their faces, and hopefully wind in their sails to ensure Denmark’s coastal policy works in harmony with natural processes. Congratulations to Tony Tutton and his team, Phil Dyke, and Emily Gillespie for bringing coastal change to life for our Danish friends, on a beautiful, breezy day on the Isle of Wight.