In 2030, a visit to the coastline of Whitehaven and St Bees will be a truly colourful experience. This place where the sea and land meet bursts with nature and beauty, while its geology provides a window into the past. It is a coastline treasured by locals and enjoyed by visitors; its elusive charm captures people’s hearts.
A wide expanse of maritime heath, scrub and flower-rich grasslands fringe this western coastline. The natural array of colours and textures vary with the seasons but are ever interesting. They provide a softness to an otherwise wild edge; a breathing space for nature and natural coastal processes, as well as for people seeking to explore or wanting a respite from their daily lives.
Across the headland flower rich pasture and scrub connect forming a subtle patchwork of habitats while freshwater pools provide havens for nature. This farmland mosaic is rich in wildlife. Beautiful, bushy hedgerows and herb-rich banks guide nature through this landscape, while also offering food and shelter for farmland birds, small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates. The landscape is pulsing with life. Slow worms or lizards bask in the sun’s warmth, numerous butterflies flutter and feed on the variety of vegetation across the whole headland. In winter many bird species feed on overwinter stubble in the fields – a welcome resource at a harsh time of year.
In spring and summer the eddying calls of sea birds rise from the sandstone cliffs below, beckoning towards north-west England’s most important sea bird site. Razorbills, kittiwakes, guillemots, black guillemot and puffins all continue to breed and raise their young here. Their breeding success acts as a barometer for the health of the Irish Sea, upon which they depend for their food.
A network of footpaths criss-cross over the head, guide and encourage people to set off from Whitehaven or St Bees and venture over the whole area to experience all that is has to offer the senses.
The geology, exposed and visible in the cliff faces and relict quarries, gives the area a distinctive feel, the colour and warmth of the St Bees sandstone recognisable. The boulder strewn rocky foreshore found at the foot of the cliffs and exposed at low tide is another unique and often unexplored attribute of this coastline. Where dumped colliery spoil has previously created an artificial slope, the material is being left to erode back to the natural cliff with no modern industrial material being deposited at sea.
On clear days the eye is drawn across the unbroken seascape to far reaching views of the Isle of Man or Scotland, with no hint of the industrial history which lies beneath the sea floor. Signs of the industrial past of this area are still dotted along the seacliffs, providing a window into a previous time. Some, such as the Haig Pit headgear, were last used within living memory and stand proud as a familiar reminder of the area’s history. But others, like the remnants of gypsum and alabaster mines at Barrowmouth Bay, are only commemorated by the ruined buildings which are crumbling monuments to this coastline’s bygone time at the forefront of industry. Saltom Pit is slowly being reclaimed by the sea as the force of the waves continues to erode the cliffs.
Modern residential and industrial developments have not spilled over onto the coastal strip and the boundary between the two areas is gentle with coastal flora being present in amenity/communal areas. Pathways continue to encourage residents to explore beyond their back garden, with few gates to impede access. Spaces for people to linger, engage with the natural environment and admire their surroundings are plentiful.
As a partnership, we show what can be done in collaboration, thinking laterally and creating solutions alongside the community. Consequently, as a partnership we understand better how people connect with this coast and the full range of benefits it provides. Our collective offer across the coast is subtly adapting to reflect this.
For people and nature, this landscape truly is a colourful and life-enriching experience all year round.