In the UK, we're on the brink of returning to normality. Those trips to the coast for a dawn mission, or an all day session, followed by beers at sunset are all on the horizon -- for the travelling surfer it means getting back to doing what you love this summer, as lockdown restrictions will be fully lifted by June 21.
We’re all pumped to get our freedom back - but there's also a bit of housekeeping that goes along with that, especially when visiting some fragile coastlines. The reality is; the beaches of Britain are set to be the busiest they’ve ever been this summer. More traffic on the roads, along the dunes, in the sea and in the line up means it’s more important than ever to protect and respect each other and our coastal environments.
Forecast: UK + Ireland
And as the summer draws nearer, we thought we'd lay out some tips and reminders that all of us can do to help preserve coastal communities across the UK, as it looks set to be the year of the staycation.
Oh, it's a cliche – but leave only footprints
We've already been seeing it, barbecues left in the sand, children's feet getting burned when walking over them. Look, not leaving the remnants of your beach picnic sounds like an obvious point but, sadly, it’s still a big issue.
“We’ve got a strong community who work hard to protect our coast and, especially over the last year in lockdown, it’s been so sad to see the amount of waste that people are leaving behind on our local beach in Tynemouth.” says Sally McGee, founder of Yonder, women’s surf school and apparel company in UK's North East.
“It’s amazing that more people are realising and appreciating what we’ve got in the UK but be conscious of why you’re coming to the beach in the first place - it’s a beautiful environment and we all want to keep it that way. We have to take responsibility for our own actions, and a little bit of planning ahead goes a long way! A simple tip is to remember a bin bag or something to carry your rubbish away with you and, where possible, avoid single use plastics.”
More volume of people means more litter and overflowing bins are a common sight too. Don’t chuck your rubbish on the top of the pile. Just, take it home yeah? Let's avoid it blowing into the sea. Which leads neatly on to...
Why not spend a couple minutes on a beach clean?
Whether you’re visiting for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks, put your hand to good use and do a beach clean. There are often group events you can get involved with like Surfers Against Sewage’s Million Mile Clean campaign, or you could gather your mates or your family and do your own 2 minute mini beach clean after your session in the water. Every little bit of picked litter helps (how’s that for a tongue twister?!).
Returning to the water post-lockdown? Try and be safe
Yeah, it may look sunny outside but that can change pretty quickly. The water's going to be packed with people in the busier months. Can't blame them. Being cooped up for all that time, people need a release. But now, it’s even more important to understand and practice being safe to avoid getting into a dangerous situation. There are lots of resources out there to take a peep at, but at the very least:
*Make sure you know the weather and tide forecast, how the breaks usually work in your chosen spot, and how to spot a rip current (and what to do if you get caught in one).
*Understand surf etiquette and be respectful of the fact that there will be people of all abilities in the water.
*Tell someone where you are.
*And whatever you do, always wear a leash.
If you’re a beginner, stick to lifeguarded areas and surf, SUP or kayak in the black and white flag zones.
If you spot someone doing something that could cause harm to themselves or others, remember that it might be naivety - be kind and educate.
The dunes (or towans) are super fragile – especially at the likes of Fistral
We’re lucky enough to have a coast lined with stunning sand dunes, and they’re not just nice to look at - they’re crucial in supporting biodiversity and wildlife and protecting inland areas from flooding. But different systems have different tolerances and many of the smaller ones can’t cope with heavy footfall.
Jess from Friends of Fistral Dunes, a volunteer group set up to protect and enhance the beach dunes, said: “Larger numbers of people walking on the dunes have caused what looks like new ‘paths’, but you should be wary of treading on those. Over time too much diversion from the main paths can cause smaller dunes like the ones at Fistral to collapse altogether.
“One of the other major problems we’re experiencing is people having fires in the dunes. In dry periods this could cause big areas to set alight. By all means enjoy spending time in the dunes, but stick to designated areas, don’t light fires and remember not to leave anything behind.”
Be aware you might not be able to get parked
Some of the UK’s best beaches and surf spots are in or near small villages that simply don’t have the infrastructure to deal with large numbers of vehicles, especially in Devon and Cornwall.
This means gridlocked traffic and rammed car parks are a frequent occurrence in busy months, polluting the air and causing all sorts of access problems for locals. If you’re staying within walking distance of the beach, walk, or if not try and car share. Always park responsibly and remember to not take your frustration out in the water.
Feel free to connect with your coast
When you’re not immersed in an environment on a regular basis it can be harder to engage in protecting it.
“During your visit to the UK coastline this summer take the time to truly understand how incredible and special it really is, and learn about the diversity of the marine world and the creatures in it” says Dan Crockett from Blue Marine Foundation. “Make a deeper connection with the coast and use that as your inspiration to make changes and take action to protect it”.
Generally – let's try to change for the better
There’s lots we can do as individuals to protect and respect the ocean and beaches, but collectively we can make an even bigger impact.
Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage Hugo Tagholm says: “This is a vital year and decade. We need to work together to protect our climate and act on leaders to make changes. You can personally take action right now by signing petitions and supporting organisations and charities like SAS, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth that are fighting to tackle these issues at the source.”
The Surfers Against Sewage website is full of advice on how you can get involved and make your voice count.
Most importantly though, the ocean's there to be enjoyed. Let's be responsible about how we do that, preserve, protect and enhance while leaving a place as you found it. Get out there!
Cover shot by Tom Vaughan Photography