From skeletons to second homes, it’s all happening on our coastline

Speakers from this year's annual forum with the AONB Partnership's chairman, Coun Jeff Watson.
Speakers from this year's annual forum with the AONB Partnership's chairman, Coun Jeff Watson.

Anglo-Saxons, birds, castles and second homes were among the talking points at the annual forum for the Northumberland Coast AONB, which is marking its 60th anniversary this year.

The event, which took place last Thursday at Ellingham Hall, provides an opportunity for the staff team to provide updates on what has been happening in the area of outstanding natural beauty over the past year as well as to hear from guest speakers.

The ossuary in St Aidan's Church crypt in Bamburgh.

The ossuary in St Aidan's Church crypt in Bamburgh.

Providing his update, AONB officer David Feige noted that the 60th birthday coincides with a five-yearly management plan review, which will be ‘light-touch’ this time around.

This is largely due to uncertainty in a number of key areas – such as agricultural policy and funding streams – because of Brexit, but there will be a public consultation on the changes proposed to the plan this autumn.

He also reflected on the Northumberland Coast Mitigation Service, a new scheme which sees every eligible development providing a contribution when planning permission is granted.

It goes into one pot, as opposed to the previous practice where each developer would attempt to mitigate the impacts of its own development, and will be used to fund coastal rangers to carry out a range of projects to protect birds.

The beach between Seahouses and Bamburgh. Picture by Ellen Jackson

The beach between Seahouses and Bamburgh. Picture by Ellen Jackson

David described it as ‘one coherent plan for the whole of the coast for how we are going to address disturbance issues’.

Iain Robson, the access and natural environment officer, talked about potentially one of the last EU-funded schemes for the AONB – the Little Tern Recovery Project, in its fourth and final year.

In a mixed year, there were 70 fledglings on the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, but none at Long Nanny due to a range of factors, not least the changing shape of the estuary itself.

Iain warned that we ‘could be in a place where all our eggs are in one basket, literally’.

He described a trip to Riga in Latvia, where terns have been nesting on the roof of a shopping centre in the city centre, but the main lesson he learned is that ‘birds and people don’t mix’.

With that in mind, he has now found some land on a peninsula at the mouth of the Coquet at Warkworth, which the farmer is willing to allow to be used as a possible site for little terns, with work set to start in January.

Iain also highlighted the ongoing success of the Coast Care project, which in the past year has seen 740 volunteers give 8,304 hours of their time.

Another exciting project, mentioned by historic and built environment officer Jessica Turner, is Accessing Aidan, which previously saw 110 Anglo-Saxon skeletons found at Bamburgh Castle buried in a specially-created ossuary at St Aidan’s Church.

The next step, which is awaiting the outcome of a bid for almost £400,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, is to provide interpretation to tell the story behind the skeletons.

Jessica said that hundreds of thousands of people visit Bamburgh each year, but less than 10 per cent know about the golden age of the settlement as the cosmopolitan heart of Anglo-Saxon Britain some 1,400 years ago. It’s not about bringing more visitors to the area, she added, but telling them about this key part of Northumbrian history.

Finally, Catherine Gray, the AONB’s communications and funding officer, talked about the various events which have taken place this year to mark the 60th anniversary, concluding with a special concert that followed the forum.

THE WORK OF THE NATIONAL TRUST ON THE NORTHUMBERLAND COAST

Seahouses beach has been selected as one of the coastal sites to host a national art project to mark the centenary of the Armistice, it was revealed.

North Northumberland’s involvement in the Pages of the Sea project, by Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle, the full details of which are to be revealed soon, was disclosed by Robyn Brown, the National Trust’s assistant director of operations, who is responsible for the Northumberland coast as part of her role across the northern region.

She explained that the charity’s vision for the area includes excelling in land management and nature conservation, working beyond its boundaries with communities and neighbours, and creating new experiences to keep the offer fresh.

Achievements in 2017-18 included the major restoration of Lindisfarne Castle and its subsequent hosting of the most ambitious Trust New Art project in the country, the acquisition of Tughall Mill and the establishment of better and closer community relations in Low Newton and Beadnell.

In a clear reflection of the increasing popularity of the Northumberland coast, the store in Seahouses was the Trust’s best-performing high-street shop in the north, while its holiday cottages had the highest occupancy rates nationally.

Looking ahead to 2019-20, plans include developing the visitor offer at Lindisfarne Castle, building on the commercial success, completing projects relating to the Farne Islands and investing in conservation.

DEFRA REVIEW OF AONBS AND NATIONAL PARKS IN ENGLAND

A consultation on AONBs and National Parks will be launching soon as part of a Government review of the protected areas in England.

And people should be honest about what they think and ‘share their views on the good, the bad and the ugly’.

As part of this call for evidence, respondents will also be able to share photos of what’s special to them about AONBs and National Parks, whether it’s places, people or wildlife.

An independent panel, led by writer Julian Glover, is looking at how these landscapes meet people’s needs in the 21st century, including whether there is scope for the current network of 34 AONBs and 10 National Parks to expand.

Speaking at the AONB forum, one of the panel members, the former BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherkee, described it as a ‘once-in-a-generation chance’ to lay the foundation stones for AONBs and National Parks in the future.

Using the example of the Cambridge University vote about banning poppies due to fears that it glorified war, she warned against assumptions about people always knowing something just because it was once well-known.

“If we don’t make the message again and again about National Parks and AONBs then the some thing could happen,” she said, highlighting that only four per cent of the population knows about the Northumberland National Park.

“They have to be seen as a national resource,” she continued, which means that the countryside needs to have a resonance for people in urban areas as well.

But modern technology and the likes of social media mean that ‘people don’t have to engage by being here’.

Her presentation was followed by a chance for members of the audience to share their views, which included issues such as the divide between urban and rural populations and the balance between attracting more visitors to support the economy and not destroying what makes an area special in the first place.

NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COAST NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN

“Would we do it again? You bet we would, it was worth every moment.”

That was the final verdict of Jen Hall, from Beadnell Parish Council, on the five-year effort to create the North Northumberland Coast Neighbourhood Plan, which covers Bamburgh, Beadnell and Seahouses.

She talked through the process of developing the plan and the key issues to address in an area with a high number of second/holiday homes and populations skewed towards older people and away from younger people.

This included plenty of consultation with as many different groups as possible, including those running businesses and holiday-cottage companies, which resulted in a 90 per cent vote in favour of the plan on a 37 per cent turnout at the referendum in May this year.

Has it worked? Yes, she said, with a permanent residence restriction being applied to all new developments and three major schemes – one in each of the three villages – having been turned down.

What’s more, the permanent residence restriction has been picked up for use in other parishes with high proportions of second/holiday homes elsewhere in Northumberland through the county council’s new draft Local Plan.

But it is not the answer to all of the problems as this restriction may mean fewer houses and the plan cannot in itself create much-needed affordable housing.

In an area where tourism is the only real source of employment, the plan has identified the need for work units, but does not provide the resources or means of delivery.

And the plan could not stop the middle school in Seahouses from closing, but Coun Hall is adamant it is delivering what it set out to do.

By Ben O’Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service