Mapping our shores: 50 years of Land Use Change at our coast

Guest blog by Huw Davies, Head of Conservation Information, National Trust

In 1965, concerned about the impact of development along the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the National Trust launched ‘Enterprise Neptune’ to help raise money to buy and protect the most ‘pristine’ stretches. There was particular concern about caravan parks, shacks, sprawling industrialisation and the defence relics left over from the war.

In order to understand which areas were most at risk from development, the Neptune committee commissioned John Whittow at the University of Reading to produce a ground-breaking land use survey on a scale not seen since the Dudley Stamp survey of the 1930s. It was a massive undertaking, but during the wet and windy summer of 1965 undergraduate students and staff walked the whole coastline mapping detailed land use classes onto 350 OS 2.5 miles to 1 inch scale maps, along with some lovely value-laden annotations that reflected the feeling of threat at the time.

Great Orme and Llandudno mapped in the 1960s

Great Orme and Llandudno mapped in the 1960s

Half a century later, the now renamed Neptune Coastline Campaign, has raised £65 million, enabling the National Trust to acquire an additional 550 miles of coastline to a total of 775 miles.  To celebrate this milestone the Trust commissioned the University of Leicester to re-survey the land use along the coast. This time it was all done from the comfort of a laboratory in Leicester (about as far away as you can get from the coast) with the aid of aerial photography, using a methodology that would specifically allow us to digitally analyse change using a Geographical Information System (GIS).

1965 land use for Great Orme and Llandudno

1965 land use for Great Orme and Llandudno

Our Mapping our Shores report (PDF 960kb) shows that three quarters  of the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is an important resource for people and nature, remains undeveloped. Indeed, of the 3,342 miles of coastline identified by our 1965 survey as ‘pristine’ and in need of protection, 94 per cent of this is either owned the Trust or has some form of statutory protection.

2014 land use for Great Orme and Llandudno

2014 land use for Great Orme and Llandudno

The report also highlights some interesting changes across a range of land use classes:

Increase in urban and built-up land at the coast by 42 per cent – but in England and Wales this was generally confined to infill in coastal settlements, with development into open countryside limited by strong development control.

Industrial areas along the coast have increased by 39 per cent, with sites moving geographically as the type of industry has changed.

Land under defence use has decreased by nearly a quarter (24 per cent), showing a shift from the post-war era of 1965.

Land use legend

Land use legend

You can find out more about land use change at coastal places you love and which matter to you via our interactive Mapping our Shores website.  It’s also possible to access the original land use maps here too.

Both the 1965 and recent survey illustrate the importance of a robust and well-enforced planning process. We hope the findings can facilitate important conversations within and between local communities, landowners and policy makers in order to maintain a sustainable and beautiful coast for the next 50 years.

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3 Responses

  1. Andrew Jones

    Do you have similar data for Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire.

    I would be interested in seeing evidence for coastal etosion, the spread of holiday homes and caravan sites.
    Best wishes

    1. Rob

      Hi Andrew
      This is probably a question for your local authority. They will use OS data to monitor the coast line in this area

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