Review could 'profoundly change' future of Northumberland coast, says chief
The outcomes of a national review of the country’s protected landscapes could ‘profoundly change’ the future of the Northumberland coast, its chief officer has said.
This update came as the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership held its annual forum on Holy Island on October 18.
Last year’s forum heard details of the consultation on AONBs and National Parks which was then about to launch as part of a Government review of the protected areas in England.
Opening this year’s event, AONB officer David Feige, who is also Northumberland County Council’s ecologist, provided a summary of the review and its 27 recommendations, which were published last month.
“It really has the potential to profoundly change what we do, how we do it and, most crucially, how much of it we can do,” he said.
He highlighted that the review concluded that these landscapes should play a central role in restoring nature, have a crucial role in new environmental land management schemes after Brexit, and that they should be for everyone – offering recreation, education and chances for people to get involved.
Of particular note was the recommendation that the AONBs should get an uplift in funding, from £6.7milllion a year to £13.4million.
“It’s quite striking that to double the funding of all 34 AONBs would only cost £6.7million, which in government terms is absolutely minuscule,” Mr Feige said.
Other suggestions in the review, which was carried out by an independent panel, led by writer Julian Glover, include the creation of a National Landscape Service and a new name for AONBs, due to the incorrect perception that they are somehow second-tier compared to national parks.
The county’s AONB would therefore become the Northumberland Coast National Landscape.
However, Mr Feige ended on a slight note of caution, saying: “It’s very exciting, but the question is what will happen next.”
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which commissioned the review, will now ‘consider the recommendations’.
Mr Feige noted that given what’s going on with Brexit, the Government may be distracted, but ‘there are genuine signs of hope’.
The rest of the AONB staff team also provided updates on what had happened in the past year.
Iain Robson, the access and natural environment officer, reflected on what is likely to be one of the last EU-funded schemes for the AONB – the Little Tern Recovery Project, which has now come to an end after four years.
Explaining its success, he said simply: “Without intervention, this bird wouldn’t exist on the Northumberland Coast at all.”
Jessica Turner, whose previous main role was historic and built environment officer, talked about the project which she is now dedicating most of her time – Accessing Aidan.
This initiative, which has been re-branded as Bamburgh Bones, follows on from the 110 Anglo-Saxon skeletons found in the Bowl Hole cemetery near Bamburgh Castle being buried in a specially-created ossuary at St Aidan’s Church.
A Lottery funding bid was successful to provide interpretation to tell the story behind the skeletons and improve the access to the crypt and the new attraction is set to open to the public on Friday, November 22, with the Bishop doing an official blessing the day before.
Finally, Catherine Gray, communications and funding officer, discussed updates on projects funded by the partnership’s Sustainable Development Fund, next year’s Visitor Guide – for which a cover photo competition will not take place this time, and meetings of all the AONBs from across the north of England.
The forum also heard that the AONB’s management plan for the next five years – despite the uncertainties around funding and policy – will be going out for public consultation in the next couple of weeks.
As usual, the rest of the day featured five talks which dealt with a variety of topics linked or related to the Northumberland coast, with summaries of them here:
The Coast Care project, which aims to encourage volunteering across the Northumberland coast, continues to see those involved put in hours and hours of effort.
It is a partnership delivered by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the AONB and the Seahouses Development Trust, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund until April next year.
Volunteers care for the area’s sandy beaches, rolling dunes, historic buildings, village greens and other community spaces, in a range of roles including performing wildlife surveys, practical conservation tasks, local site wardens, photographers and administration.
Project assistant Kristian Purchase said that so far, 1,384 people have actively participated as volunteers, while between late 2017 and this month, 21,136 volunteer hours have been put in.
This includes 6,938 hours of practical conservation, 5,981 hours covering the likes of beach cleans and footpath monitoring and 3,916 hours of wildlife monitoring.
The forum also heard from Ellie Coleman, who is working with Coast Care on a graduate traineeship, which she is very enthusiastic about, not least for the training, learning and career development opportunities it provides.
The Coastal Classroom
‘Any subject can be taught and reinforced on the beach’ – that’s the view of Bridie Melkerts which is the basis of her organisation, Mudlarks Outdoors.
The initiative provides outdoor education sessions for primary-age children on beaches on the north Northumberland coast.
The sessions on offer are incredibly varied and don’t by any means have to be based directly on the beach – Bridie mentioned the Vikings, pirates, den-building, Grace Darling, Anglo Saxons, tides and the moon, dinosaurs, geology, the Second World War, rainforests, the Olympics and rock-pooling.
On the latter, she said: “It’s always pure joy to see how enthusiastic they are about discovering the creatures in rock pools.”
A special session for Year 5 pupils on plastic pollution involved 300 children from 12 schools in the Alnwick Partnership.
The reason for promoting these beach sessions, Bridie explained, is that children are spending more and more time indoors these days, with many not even getting one hour a day outside – less than prisoners.
This comes at a time when two of the main concerns around young people are obesity and mental health issues – with time spent being active and outdoors clearly a way of countering both.
However, she accepted that there are a number of obstacles for schools doing it themselves – risk, perception of risk and the administration related to it; lack of experience; lack of budget; concerns about pupils’ behaviour; performance pressure, for example, with SATS exams; and just the perception that teaching cannot take place outdoors.
Nonetheless, with the support of Mudlarks, two schools in north Northumberland have now become fully-fledged beach schools – Embleton and Hipsburn, with both committed to regular beach lessons for all of their pupils.
A win-win partnership for our environmental future
An ecology expert highlighted a ‘very simple solution to a very important problem’ which came to light on the north Northumberland coast last year.
Professor John Hobrough, who has kept bees for more than 65 years, shared his experience of how bees and the amount of honey they produce has declined over the decades.
More importantly, he spoke about what this means as a wider indication of our environment as well as the crucial role that pollinators play in the survival of humans.
Bees pollinate three-quarters of all crops and in the past 100 years, 20 species of British bee have disappeared and another 35 are currently at risk of extinction.
Around 65% of our food relies on pollinators, which prompted Albert Einstein to say that if bees die out tomorrow, mankind has three years to survive.”
He was ‘not far out’, Professor Hobrough said, which means that it would have a far faster impact on us than climate change.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, if farmers are encouraged and supported to put time, energy and space into planting pollinator-friendly crops.
The example of how well this can work took place last year, when the farmer at Buston Barns, near Warkworth, planted a crop of purple tansy.
His main aim was to use it to break up the clay soil and then use it as a green manure, but it resulted in a massive increase in the amount of honey produced by Prof Hobrough’s bees.
A subsequent survey by volunteers of small areas of the field suggested that the 600-hectare field was supporting 3.78million honey bees and two million bumble bees.
The crop was supporting bees and other insects across a wide area, based on the experience of other nearby beekeepers, so it was pointed out that planting a field like this every six miles across the country would solve the problem of declining bees and other pollinators.
Evaluation of the AONB’s National Lottery Heritage Fund projects
It’s not about the outputs – the raw numbers, but the outcomes and impact of a project that make it successful or not.
So says Katherine Williams, who works as a project evaluator on behalf of the AONB Partnership.
Sharing the lessons of three of the recent projects in the AONB, she said that the overall key lesson is about branding, which doesn’t just mean logos or designs, although this can be part of it, but what the public understands or perceives the project to be.
Talking about the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership Scheme, a £1.8million initiative that funded a wide variety of conservation and engagement projects on Holy Island and the adjacent mainland, which is now being wrapped up, she said that two of its most successful projects which should have a legacy were on nesting shorebirds and archaeology.
Katherine added that the important interaction between the archaeology, geology and archives projects was another lesson that should be taken away.
In relation to Coast Care, which is ongoing, she said the key will be to see if it can be sustained after its Lottery funding ends next year.
It has ‘mobilised an army of volunteers’, but there is a perception that it is only about beach cleans, it was ‘slow to get going’ and another issue early on was that volunteer wellbeing rather than heritage need was too much the focus of deciding what activities took place, Katherine explained.
Finally, she mentioned Accessing Aidan, or Bamburgh Bones, which is just getting started.
She explained that the success measures will not be that there are more visitors, but that the existing visitors are more aware and learn that there is more to the village than just the Castle and Grace Darling.