How the face of industry-damaged County Durham coastline changed and achieved 20 years of heritage status

The former industry-damaged coastline of County Durham has reached 20 years of heritage coast status.

By Ryan Smith
Thursday, 29th April 2021, 3:45 pm

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The Durham Heritage Coast, now called the Heritage Coast of Sunderland, Durham and Hartlepool, achieved the prestigious status in 2001, putting it on a level footing with some of the most famous coastlines in Britain.

Heritage Coasts are sections of the coastline in England and Wales designated for their natural beauty, wildlife and heritage yet at one point in time, it would have been unthinkable for the coastline of Durham to be granted the status.

Heritage Coast Officer Niall Benson with Newcastle University Marine Biology student Darcie Rawlings at Blackhall Rocks Cross Gill Nature Reserve.

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Heritage Coast Officer, Niall Benson, has spoke about how there is a whole generation who have grown up not knowing how bad things once were.

He said: “Those of us of a certain age can well remember how bad this area once looked. The beaches were famous for all the wrong reasons.

“Thankfully, those memories are fading fast and it’s a source of great pride for us that the children and young people, and even the young adults, we see enjoying the coast today have only ever known it as it is now.

“It’s hard to believe it’s 20 years ago this month that we first proudly announced we had received Heritage Coast status.

Around 1.3 million tonnes of colliery spoil had be removed from the coastline.

“Where colliery spoil once blackened the beaches, now we have seals basking and sky larks singing. It’s a world away from what it once was and every day nature helps us by reclaiming a little bit more for herself.”

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The Heritage Coast now provides opportunities for younger people such as 20-year-old Marine Biology student Darcie Rawlings, who was born the same year the Heritage Coast status was awarded.

She commented: “This stretch of coastline is stunning and often really underappreciated. I’ve loved visiting the area while I’ve been studying species regeneration. In fact, I was initially attracted to study kelp here because it’s Durham and I’m from the County.

The Turn the Tide project included the clean up of the coastline at Easington.

“I’ve very fond memories of family trips to Roker and Seaburn as a child visiting my granddad, so the chance to spend more time elsewhere on the Heritage Coast has been fantastic.”

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The Turning The Tide project was set up in 1997 to achieve Heritage Coast status - which was granted in 2001.
Now and then of Easington, which was a part of the Turn the Tide project.
County Durham celebrates 20 years of Heritage Coast status. Heritage Coast Officer Niall Benson with Newcastle University Marine Biology student Darcie Rawlings at Blackhall Rocks Cross Gill Nature Reserve.
The coastline has recovered following centuries on industrial action.