South Coast Day 1: 12th July 2021
What a wet and windy day it's been! The first day of my hike, in classic British form, welcomed me with a torrent of rain and a crash of thunder, soaking my boots through within 15 minutes of leaving my comfy hotel room. As I sit here airing my feet off at the end of what has been a very soggy afternoon, I decide to reflect on what I've seen over the past day.
Walking along the beaches of #Bournemouth, the most curious thing I've noticed is how clean the coastline here is. Despite being a major city that hosts one of the most popular holiday destinations in England, there is a notable lack of human impacts that you would expect on such a well-visited coastline. No litter, no pollution-associated seaweed blooms, just...coast. Slightly confused yet slightly hopeful, I decided to hit the internet to see if I could find an explanation.
After a bit of googling, I was pleased to find that Bournemouth actually has an incredibly large coastal sustainability presence, with huge amounts of funding going into various programmes to help the local coastline. One of the most prominent is the Leave Only Footprints campaign, which has provided hundreds of recycling and general waste bins all along the seafront, making it super easy to dispose of all your litter. I certainly lost count of the number of times I saw their friendly footprint logo on my travels today!
Another scheme which I found particularly useful is the Refill Dorset operation. Aiming to reduce plastic bottle consumption, this campaign allows local businesses to open up their doors and offer water refills to anyone and everyone for free. This was a particular lifesaver for me when I was running low on water today, and clearly a lifesaver for the beach as well, with not a plastic water bottle in sight.
A bit of a wet day on the Bournemouth coast, but not a single bit of litter in sight!
Despite all the rain, Bournemouth has rather brightened my day and made me very optimistic about what is to come. I was fully expecting to spend my first blog detailing all the negatives about human impacts on the coast, but I've ended up doing the exact opposite! I'm off to have a well-deserved warm shower and rest my head in this very comfortable room that kindly been offered to me this evening (big shout out to Anna from Christchurch!). Hopefully tomorrow won't be so soggy!
Very soggy but still smiling!
South Coast Day 3: 14th July 2021 A couple of days later and the weather is considerably better! So far my hike is going rather smoothly, with not a drop of rain in sight and a couple of lovely campsites to pitch up my tent in (big shout-out to Hurst View who let me crash for free!). There's only been one blip so far, which was when I was rudely turned back on my route by a massive #landslide which had spilled all over the beach near #Barton-on-Sea. Sadly, this problem isn't unique to the South Coast. With some areas of the world losing up to 4 feet of coastline each year, landslides such as the one I saw are turning into a serious global problem. The culprit? Costal erosion. Coastal erosion is where the ocean repeatedly hits an area of coastline, so much so that eventually the coastline wears away and spills into the sea. This is a completely natural process, however a variety of human influences have caused it to speed up to an unsustainable level. Firstly, climate change has meant that more storms are occurring and sea levels are rising. This increases both the quantity and the force of water hitting the coastlines, increasing erosion. Secondly, more direct human interventions, such as groynes, also play a role. These little wooden juts that you might have seen on beaches help prevent the sea moving sand away from the coast, keeping the most popular beaches large and sandy for people to use. However, this means that the sand can't travel further down the coastline, and cliffs around the beach are left to be battered by the sea. The process of coastal erosion is not only bad for walkers like me and people that live near the coast, but is also bad for the nearby #ecosystems. Terrestrial habitats are destroyed as top-soil seed banks are washed away and plants can't grow back. Marine ecosystems are also impacted as toxic contaminants in the soil such as pesticides and heavy metals are washed into the sea. So what can we do to fix this? Sadly, natural restoration of the coast is an expensive and time consuming process, so most areas tend to use 'quick-fix' solutions to prevent erosion. For example, sea walls can prevent waves eroding away directly at the coast, and beach nourishment (where sand is imported to a coastline) can slow the waves down before they reach the cliffs. But, it seems to me that this is all avoiding the root of the problem. To act preventatively instead of in response, we really need to tackle the big issue - #climate change. Certainly food for thought as I tuck into my two servings of pasta this evening!
Set up nicely in the New Forest after a hard day's walking!
South Coast Day 7: 18th July 2021 Words cannot describe how hot it is in this tent right now! These past few days I've spent hiking in a full-on heatwave, and I have never been more sweaty. I've drunk a tonne of water, but also seen a tonne of stuff as well along my travels, and not all good. As the heat is driving people outdoors, sadly this generally leads to a spike in #litter in our cities, which I experienced firsthand whilst hiking through #Portsmouth.
See how many pieces of litter you can count on this park in Portsmouth! As I waded through, the majority of waste seemed to be single-use #plastics, such as drinks bottles, food packaging, and the ever-present face masks. I'm sure you can all think of some obvious reasons for why these plastics are bad for local wildlife, but recent research has also highlighted some less obvious impacts that I thought would be interesting to share. In terms the health of our ocean, plastics are bad - REALLY bad. Not only do they release powerful greenhouse gases as they begin to break down under sunlight, but they also impact the ocean's ability to act as a carbon sink. This is where, under natural conditions, tiny marine animals such as plankton take carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and incorporate it into their bodies as mass, just like a tree would turn carbon dioxide into wood and leaves. This creates a huge storage of carbon across the ocean, providing a key barrier against climate change. However, for reasons that are yet to be fully unravelled, ocean plastics completely disrupt this cycle, preventing the plankton from being able to absorb this carbon out of the atmosphere. Considering that the oceans have absorbed up to 50% of atmospheric carbon since the industrial era, it is clear to see that this is a problem not to be taken lightly. A healthy #ocean really is key to a healthy planet, so next time you go outside to enjoy the sun, please make sure you take your plastic home with you! Or even better, consider reusable alternatives and cut out the plastic altogether! Just as a side note, I'd like to give a huge shout-out to Fiona from Portsmouth, Jacqui from Emsworth, and Ellscott Park campsite for letting me stay in their homes and gardens free of charge! The teas, food, and chats brightened up my day even more than the sunshine! https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-waste-and-climate-change-whats-the-connection#gs.684zhq
South Coast Day 10: 21st July 2021
In the middle of a #heatwave, and still plodding on! These past few days I've been winding my way round the West Sussex coastline, crunching through the shingle beaches and cooling off in the blue-green seas. As I've been hiking along, I've realised that this area of coast actually has some amazing wildlife initiatives, ranging from re-wilding programs (aiming to reintroduce species such as #beavers) to the construction of a wildlife corridor that will link the coast to inland habitats over main roads.
One of the most interesting initiatives I discovered was the Sussex #Kelp Restoration Project, where conservationists successfully confirmed a bye-law preventing bottom-trawling off the Sussex coastline. Bottom-trawling is a method of fishing by which large weighted nets are released onto the sea bed and dragged along the floor, catching any fish that comes into its path. This is arguably one of the most destructive methods of fishing, completely destroying any marine habitat in the trawling area. The new bye-law is therefore a huge move for conservation, protecting an entire 40 mile stretch of coastline from this damaging practice.
One of the eventual outcomes of this newly protected area is the creation of a kelp forest. Kelp forests are large and dense habitats of kelp - a large type of algae that forms an almost tree-like structure underwater. These are one of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on the planet, capturing huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and providing a safe place to live for a variety of organisms, from worms to fish. With the UK hosting the most diverse kelp forests in Europe, it is critical that we protect and grow these kinds of habitats, as they really are crucial to maintaining the health of the ocean.
A forest has got to be better than a barren wasteland, right! Thinking about all these ocean habitats is making me feel hot again, so I'm off to see if I can find a cool drink in the lovely town of #Worthing. And maybe another dip in the sea!
Blue skies and a bluer sea - time for a swim I think!
Also, a huge shout-out to Woodpecker Camping Field for letting me stay for free and giving me a tonne of info on the local area!
South Coast Day 14: 25th July 2021 It's been a long few days but I've just about made it over halfway through my journey! These past few miles of coastline have been absolutely stunning, trekking through places such as the silky soft Camber Sands, the rugged Seven Sisters, and of course right through the town centers of #Brighton, #Eastbourne, and #Hastings. I've seen so much over the past few days, but also learnt so much as well, especially today as I was wandering through Hastings Country Park.
A nice view of the Seven Sisters cliffs in the background, which look a lot smaller from a distance! Honestly, this country park seems like a real hidden gem to me - it's a relatively short stretch of #coastline, taking me only a couple of hours to cover, but it's sure worth taking a stop to look at. As I was plodding through it at 6am this morning, I could scarcely believe that I was just round the corner from Hastings town centre. It just seemed so wild, with ancient woodland rising and dropping dramatically from cliff to cliff, all cascading down towards a misty sea far below. After doing a bit of reading about the country park, I realised that it is actually designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, mostly due to the acid grassland and coastal heathland habitats it supports. These are some of the most threatened habitats in the UK, and until 2000, their location by Hastings was in serious decline, with dominating bracken, gorse, and scrub obliterating the site. However, over the past couple of decades the park has been subject to a much-needed coastal management scheme, aiming to restore this rare grassland and heathland back to its former glory. One of the more interesting components of this scheme is the introduction of belted Galloway cattle and wild Exmoor ponies to the park, some of which crossed my path rather suddenly this morning! These animals graze down the dominating bracken, gorse, and scrub in areas of the park where access to machinery would be impossible, and arguably do a much better job of it as well by removing the roots of the plants as well as the stems! This has all lead to significant increases in biodiversity across the park, with rare species such as hedgehog weevils and nomad bees making a return to the site.
Hastings Country Park early this morning, just before some ponies scared me by trotting onto the path! Definitely worth a visit if you're ever about near Hastings! I'm off to batten down the hatches now - we're due another thunderstorm this evening! Let's hope my trusty tent will see me through! I'd also just like to give a huge thanks to Stud Farm, Fairfields Farm, and Shear Barn campsites for all letting me stay for free! It's really really appreciated! https://www-hastingsobserver-co-uk.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/people/wild-exmoor-ponies-return-hastings-country-park-1422017?amp=&_gsa=1&_js_v=a6&usqp=mq331AQKKAFQArABIIACAw%3D%3D#amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&aoh=16272235979631&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&share=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.hastingsobserver.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fpeople%2Fwild-exmoor-ponies-return-hastings-country-park-1422017 https://hiddenhastings.org.uk/management/ https://www.hastings.gov.uk/countryside-nature/naturereserves/naturereserves-hastings/hcp/