Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Fancy being a COASTodian?

Imagine taking a walk to your favourite place on the Welsh coast. Everyday worries fade away as you leave the road and stroll towards the shore. Your spirits lift as you take in the clean sea air and the invigorating sounds of seabirds and crashing waves. Then imagine how you’d feel when you arrive at your cherished beach to find it resembling a rubbish tip. Everywhere you look litter is scattered about; tatters of plastic festoon the gorse and thorn bushes and flap forlornly in the breeze; old campfires are surrounded by discarded empty drink cans.

Now imagine how you’d feel if you found out that this was a National Trust property. You’d probably tell all your friends about how awful it is that an organisation dedicated to public enjoyment of beautiful places hasn’t done something about it. You’d also consider bringing it to the attention of your local council. You may even write a strongly-worded letter to your local paper and MP.

Well, this is precisely what recently happened at one of our most beautiful South Wales beaches. Truth be told, with 157 miles of coast to look after, we don’t always have the resources to adequately look after all our places. In this particular case, it’s a half-day round trip for our rangers to check this beach and they were busy with a backlog of work elsewhere. Anxious to repair the rather dented relations with this community, the lead ranger phoned me up to ask if I was able to help.

COASTodian Kits - ready to go
As luck would have it, I’ve been working on an initiative which aims to remedy exactly this sort of situation. The COASTodian initiative (MORLINofalwr in Welsh) is a way for residents and visitors to get more involved with conserving beautiful places around the Welsh coast. The goal is to have a sort of human chain of Community COASTodians around our coast; each one of them dedicating some of their time to adopt a particular stretch of coast and check it regularly. As well as being our rangers’ ‘eyes and ears’ they can also carry out light maintenance tasks, make observations on wildlife sightings and help other people enjoy their visit or get involved.

Launching the COASTodian Initiative in Carmarthenshire
A few days later, I met the local ranger team at the aforementioned desecrated beach and with the help of the local Member of Parliament we removed a skip-full of rubbish, returning the beach to its pristine condition. But the challenge now is to keep it that way. So before I left, I handed over a couple of Community COASTodian kits to the rangers, who are now on the lookout for some benevolent resident to take up one of these new voluntary roles.

Peter Hill, COASTodian Number One
Buoyed up by this mini success story, I returned home and contacted one of the people who are leading the way with the initiative in North Wales. Three years ago, local resident Peter Hill noticed that we were struggling to keep up with the maintenance of Tywyn y Fach, an unspoilt stretch of sand dunes near Abersoch. Instead of complaining, he decided to do something practical. With our local rangers’ support, Peter began checking the site regularly; picking litter, inspecting the gates and signs and letting us know if he needed help with anything. As a result, he has single-handedly turned this popular location from a source of frustration to a source of pride.

The place is remarkable not only for its clean and tidy appearance, but also as a shining example of how local people can help us better care for their coast.

Click the link in the menu bar above to find out how to get involved.

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