I grew up on the coast, a 15 minute stroll from a long white sandy beach where you could walk your dog, say g’day to the five other people you saw and have a dip in 25 degree water at 7.30 on a summer’s evening.
So it is with a sense of wry amusement that I reflect on how I came to be living, working and practically breathing the Jurassic Coast. Where I once navigated a short stretch of little sand dunes from the car park to the beach, I now contend with towering cliffs full of mind-boggling ancient fossils. Where “coastal conservation” once entailed the issue of sand dune degradation (eroding from 2m high to 1.8), there are now spectacularly deadly cliff falls and a panoply of stakeholders to contend with. Where “safety on the beach” once meant not being eaten by a shark, it is now the long-dead creatures buried in rock that are the issue, rather than the living ones.
What has struck me the most during my short time in this part of the world is the abundant passion people feel for their local patch and for the area as a whole. It seems to grip the collective imagination in a way few other places can manage. People relate to the coast in so many different ways, poo-pooing any notion that humanity has become desensitised to our natural environment. The communities that live and breathe this coastline are as connected to the natural world as it’s possible to be in twenty-first century western civilisation. We plan our work meetings around the tide calendar, go for a quick row in the sea before our morning meetings and turn a quick trip to the beach into a whole day… then a weekend… then a week.
The coast is the common currency that we all deal in, and an incredibly powerful starting point from which to launch collaborative efforts. I love it, you love it, that’s understood, so how do we go about making your coastal vision a reality? It’s something bigger than all of us, but for which we’re all jointly responsible. That’s what makes my job such a pleasure, the sense of discovering what makes people tick and using those myriad creative strands to stitch together a patchwork of passions.
The sheer variety of ways of engaging with the coast is simply astounding, and couldn’t exist in any other phase of human history. Rather than deadening us to the wonders of nature, modern technology has actually given us the framework to interact with it in more creative and expressive ways than ever before. Annabel Wilson takes an ancient Japanese art form to create stunning dyed-blue ammonites, Cara Jenkins arrives with her magic bag of fluffy tails and model dinosaurs to enthral children in imaginative games, Mike Green and Steve Snowball make complicated ancient geology accessible to day-trippers from London, Ollie Taylor and Steve Belasco use their state of the art cameras to weave tapestries of wonder with light, whilst Alex Weaver and Hartley Woolf create magical images and moving pictures from their laptops.
I could go on and on about the unique individuals who comprise our phenomenal Jurassic Coast community, who somehow come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. It is a community where everyone has a part to play and no idea is too wild or out there, because it all comes back to a common, eternal core – the Jurassic Coast is the ultimate muse and its ever-changing nature, coupled with the continuous changes in our capacity to relate to it, mean the creative responses thrown up in its enormous shadow are constantly evolving, re-inventing themselves to offer a means of expression to anyone and everyone.
The past sits there recorded in stone, but the future is ours to write, in whichever language suits us best.
The Jurassic Coast Annual Seminar, “Stories from Our Coast”, is on Wednesday 24th June at 2pm in Lyme Regis. Entry is free.