South Coast Day 17: 28th July 2021
Almost three quarters of the way round the South Coast and I'm now deep in the heart of one of the UK's most beautiful counties - Kent. As I wander along the coastal paths, the view each day keeps getting better and better, from seeing the White Cliffs of Dover stretching out in the distance to just spotting France peek over the horizon as I finally clambered my way up. As I wound my way around the cliffs today, I noticed that they weren't just popular with tourists, but also with a wide variety of animals as well.
The White Cliffs of Dover from the top - I was going to take a selfie but was looking a bit too sweaty!
The White Cliffs of Dover provide an incredibly important habitat for a variety of species, but perhaps none as notable as the skylarks. These little charismatic birds are ground-nesting, meaning that instead of building their nests and laying eggs high up in trees like you might expect, they create little hollows in the ground which they line with leaves and grasses in order to make a bed for their eggs go rest on. Unfortunately, this ground-nesting behaviour makes them rather vulnerable to a variety of human-associated impacts.
As wild areas in the UK are generally rare, skylarks tend to nest on farmland, which has created a whole host of problems as farming practices have changed over the years. A switch to autumn-sown crops and the widespread use of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers has meant that their once livable habitat is now too tall, dense, and toxic for skylarks to thrive. As fewer and fewer chicks are raised each year, this has caused the population to plummet, falling 54% between 1970 and 2001, and resulting in a Red List species status.
Whilst the skylark's prospects may seem grim, this has been noted by conservationists who are doing all they can to get the population rising again. In Dover, the National Trust is devoted to saving this species, buying farmland around the White Cliffs to turn into natural meadows - a perfect habitat for skylarks. As I was walking through the meadows today I also noticed very prominent signs up for tourists, aiming to teach the public about this rare species and how they can help conserve it - for example by keeping dogs on leads so they don't destroy the nests!
A huge diversity of flowers and grasses - perfect for hosting a huge diversity of animals, including skylarks.
Whilst I didn't see any skylarks myself today, I remain optimistic - the transformation of this area from farmland to natural grasslands and meadows has clearly done wonders for the local biodiversity. I've seen more flowers, insects, and birds today than I have at any other location on my trip so far! A real inspiration for other areas of coast looking to do the same.
I'd also like to give a huge thanks to Romney Meadows campsite for letting me stay for free and stealing all their ice cubes on a very hot day! And of course the Fraser family of Folkestone - my feet are feeling miles better after your foot spa :)
South Coast Day 20: 31st July 2021
How the time has flown! I can't believe there's only four days left of my hike now - it really does only feel like yesterday that I was nervously packing up my rucksack in Bournemouth for the first day of my journey. As I wandered into Whitstable today and got speaking to some locals, I've realised that there has been one overarching theme that everyone seems to be talking about down here - sewage leaks.
As I've travelled along the South Coast, it really has been a reoccurring topic that local communities are genuinely worried about sewage pollution in their oceans. This concern is very well-founded. After a quick Google search I quickly discovered that a large company called Southern Water was recently fined £90 million for dumping the equivalent of 7,400 swimming pools worth of raw sewage into the ocean, all across where I've been trekking along Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent. Having swam in these seas at various points over the past three weeks, I found this rather shocking! Raw sewage in the ocean can be incredibly bad for people's health, carrying diseases such as hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid - none of which I'd like to get!
Marine sewage pollution isn't just bad for swimmers though. It can also really mess with the environment. Raw sewage adds a huge amount of nutrients into a coastal habitat, which promotes an unusually large amount of bacterial growth. These bacteria need oxygen to grow, resulting in the removal of a significant amount of oxygen from the water. This oxygen removal resulting from the sewage pollution leads to areas of coastal "dead zones", where the water is just too oxygen-lacking for any organism to live. Clearly this isn't great when it comes to conserving marine environments, and when we consider that globally these "dead zones" have quadrupled in size over the last 50 years, it just makes the actions of Southern Water even more disappointing.
Thankfully, someone saw fit to fine them a huge amount of money, hopefully acting as a deterrent for any other companies planning on doing the same! As I've said in my previous blogs, a healthy ocean is key to a healthy planet, so the last thing we want to be doing is dumping all our waste in it!
I'd also just like to give a quick shout-out to Manston Court Holiday Park for letting me stay for free - it's really appreciated!
An abandoned fort I found at Reculver - a nice place to stop for lunch!
My wildcamping spot for this evening, right by the ocean for a quick (and hopefully sewage-free) swim!
South Coast Reflection
I can hardly believe it's over! 24 days later and I'm finally sitting in London, back in civilisation waiting for my train home. This past month has been an absolute whirlwind and I think it'll probably take me a few days to come to terms with what I've just done! It felt inexplicably weird this morning to wake up in a proper bed, and not have to pack my bags ready for a long day of walking. Slightly relieving but also a bit sad! I'll certainly miss seeing new sights and meeting new people every day, and I'll even miss sleeping in my little tent every night - despite the uncomfortable ground and a series of thunderstorms, it became a nice cozy haven for me at the end of each day!
Still smiling on the final day of the hike!
What I'll miss most of all is seeing the ocean every morning. Waking up to the sound of waves crashing on the shore every day became almost a calming ritual, staring out into the blue as I ate my porridge and wondering what the day would bring. It gave me some comfort to know that however many wrong turns I would make that day and however many new blisters I would form, the ocean would still be there, waiting patiently for me to pitch up at my next destination and paddle my sore feet in its depths for a while. Throughout this trip I've honestly gained a whole new appreciation for our oceans, and I feel like I've learnt so much about how we are impacting them in such a negative way.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, a healthy ocean is absolutely key to a healthy planet. So next time you're by the sea, take a look out into the blue like I've done, and have a think about what you can do to help it. Whether it's as simple as taking your litter home to put in a bin, or as complex as campaigning against bottom-trawling, every action helps. The ocean is truly amazing - let's help keep it that way!
The last bit of coast as I wound my way into London, curving round to the Thames.