From an industrial dumping ground resembling an alien planet to a tourist hotspot - the story behind the transformation of Blast Beach

After thousands of people have enjoyed the Blast Beach coastline this summer we take a look back on the transformation which took the area from ‘Alien’ to beauty spot.

Sunday, 1st September 2019, 08:00 am
Updated Monday, 2nd September 2019, 18:52 pm
What a difference 50 years makes

Now a coastal haven for wildlife and a place for people to enjoy again Blast Beach has been completely rejuvenated since the late 1990s – when the coastline had suffered some of the worst pollution in the world.

For decades the beach was used as a dumping ground for four mines in East Durham – Noses Point, Easington Colliery, Horden Colliery and Blackhall Colliery.

Research suggest that the 12km stretch of beach was buried under no less than 2.5million tonnes of colliery waste – every single year.

The Blast Beach, Seaham.

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And following almost of a century of colliery waste dumping, the devastation extended 7km out to sea.

However after the pits were closed in the 1980s a massive regeneration project began to clean up the coastline.

In total, 14 organisations, including Durham County Council and the National Trust, joined together for Turning the Tide (TTT) partnership and a £10million programme of environmental improvements was implemented through one hundred separate projects.

From 1997 to 2002, major work was carried out to combat the abuse the coastline had faced for decades.

Earth-moving equipment at Noses Point, with Dawdon Colliery in the background, and was taken in 1968. Picture credit: Durham County Record Office, reference D/X 1100/46/1

And now 20 years on the beach is flourishing wildlife, plants have returned and the community now flock to the seaside they had previously lost all hope in.

The beach is unrecognisable to the out-of-this world scenes which featured in ‘Alien 3’ and the grim black beaches which formed the backdrop for the climax of Get Carter with Michael Caine.

Eric Wilton, General Manager for the National Trust South of Tyne said: “We look after five miles of the East Durham coastline, which has been transformed from its industrial past to become a haven for wildlife, including wildflowers and rare butterflies.

“Once home to one of the biggest coal mines in Europe, the coastline suffered some of the worst coastal pollution in the world.

A warning sign remains at the site

“The the landscape has been restored into a haven for wildlife and people who are able to use the coast again.”

Coun Carl Marshall, Cabinet member for economic regeneration at Durham County Council, added: “We’re delighted that so many people chose to spend some of their summer, and enjoy the sunshine, at Seaham.

“Not only at the wonderful Blast Beach with its unique sea glass, but its shops, bars, restaurants and hotels which attract visitors from all over the world. Seaham really is a success story.”

An image of the Seaham coastline from 1968, before mining activity made way for sea glass hunters and tourists, was provided to the Echo by Durham County Record Office.

The Blast Beach in Seaham

The record office houses archive collections spanning almost 900 years which members of the public can view for local and family history research free of charge at its home at Durham County Council’s County Hall in Durham.

It is currently staging an exhibition telling the story of Peterlee and the Apollo Pavilion, which can be viewed during office hours until March.

National Trust looks after 5 miles of the coastline.