Whether you’re sunbathing on sandy shores, crabbing in calm coves or boating off a beautiful bay – if there’s one thing we’re all likely to do at some point this summer, it’s hit the beach. So here at Shire we’ve had a look at our Great British obsession with going to the coast
As an island nation it’s no surprise that the British love of the seaside goes back centuries. Historically, and to some extent still to this day, seawater has been believed to have curative and therapeutic powers. The earliest recorded day trippers to the beach were probably going for the medicinal reasons of ‘taking the waters’. This was evident from medieval times, when people began visiting spas for beneficial effects. The practice became increasingly popular, but more for enjoyment than for healing, through the 18th century.
While people embraced the idea of visiting beaches for pleasure, authorities were concerned for morals, and introduced elaborate (and compulsory) bathing suits, as well as encouraging the development of bathing machines and huts to ensure minimal exposure.
Beside the seaside
Our much-loved spa and seaside towns followed the crowds, developing around the coasts, and incorporating the features we still enjoy today, such as promenades and piers. The Victorians managed to make a day at the beach an elaborate affair, but while we might approach such a trip more simply these days, we have them to thank for many of our favourite coastal locations.
As decades passed and travel transformed our access to the rest of the world, the British seaside dropped in popularity, with many opting for the guaranteed weather of a beach break in Spain or Greece. But in recent years, with the rise of the staycation for reasons of budget, ease and a desire to embrace our own culture, the great British seaside has seen a boom. This has led to some much-needed redevelopment, and once again the country has an array of beaches, bays, coves and coasts to be proud of.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Welsh coastline is huge, over 750 miles long!
Keep Wales Tidy has unveiled the 91 sites across the country that have met the high standards needed to receive Blue Flag, Green Coast and Seaside Awards – a total of 149 awards for Wales.
This year’s announcement is particularly special as it marks the 30th anniversary of Blue Flag in Wales. Cefn Sidan in Carmarthenshire was the only site to achieve Blue Flag status when the programme launched in 1988. In the three decades since, this number has soared to 47, including three award-winning marinas and one boat tour operator. Wales now has more Blue Flags per mile than anywhere else in the UK.
Minister for Environment, Hannah Blythyn said: ‘We’re lucky in Wales to have some of the world’s finest beaches. It’s fantastic to see so many of them receiving these awards, which is testament to the work being done by our partners and communities across Wales to keep our beaches and waters clean. The Blue Flag is a mark of the high coastal environment standards, which is trusted around the globe.’
A further 19 beaches in Wales have gained the Green Coast Award – recognising the ‘hidden gems’ along our coastline – and 83 beaches have achieved the Seaside Award for their good water quality and facilities.
Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Lord Elis-Thomas, said: ‘Year of the Sea 2018 is the perfect time to celebrate the success of 30 years of the Blue Flag programme – and gives us a fantastic opportunity to make the most of the fact we have more Blue Flag beaches per mile than anywhere else in Britain. This is a fantastic achievement and a true team effort. It shows how Wales is committed to safeguarding our amazing natural assets.’
Speaking about the significance of the awards, Lesley Jones, Keep Wales Tidy chief executive, said: ‘We
must recognise the importance of the awards in attracting tourism to support the local economy, giving our communities a rightful sense of pride and promoting environmental awareness.’
Each spring, applications are examined by an independent national and international jury made up of expert coastal stakeholders. During peak season, each site is assessed to ensure the criteria are met. Each category has its own specific set of criteria that must be met to gain this prestigious award. For beaches, the criteria includes:
• Environmental education activities must be offered and promoted to beach users.
• In accordance with the EU Bathing Water Directive, an applicant beach must be classified as ‘Excellent’.
• A beach management committee should be established.
• The beach must be clean and recycling facilities available.
• Adequate toilets must be provided and kept clean.
• Public safety control measures must be implemented.
Seaside Award criteria include:
• Information displayed about bathing and facilities.
• Safety equipment and services must minimise the possibility of harm to beach users.
• Bathing water must have achieved ‘Sufficient’ standard under the EU Bathing Water Directive.
• The beach and adjoining facilities must be clean.
• Toilet facilities must be provided and cleaned.
Another vital role our beaches and coastlines play is to provide a rich variety of habitats for our native
flora and fauna, as explained by
the Wildlife Trust
There is no wonder, with hundreds of miles of coastline stretching from the banks of the Dee Estuary to Aberdyfi, that we are lucky enough in North Wales to experience a large range of coastal and marine habitats, from saltmarshes to tidal rapids and mudflats to rocky reefs.
The various and often unique physical characteristics formed over thousands of years as land and sea evolve have given rise to diverse wildlife in this area. While we can often see marine mammals surfacing and seabirds arriving to lay their eggs, the swirling currents beneath the waves allow for a colourful array of weird and wonderful marine life, only seen by those lucky enough to dive. Those of us who don’t can still search beaches for clues of what lies beneath, from the remnants of creatures washed up by storms and by making the most of low tides.
Whether you have to don a bobble hat or slap on the suncream, there are endless opportunities for year-round coastal activities. Blow away the winter blues with a bracing walk along a stormy beach and look for sea mice, sea potatoes, mermaid’s purses and all sorts of other treasures.
Vast estuaries and mudflats such as the Dee, Lafan Sands and the Glaslyn are good spots to watch for the wildfowl and waders that flock here in winter, while vast seacliffs of places such as the Great Orme and South Stack provide amazing spots in the summer to spot seabirds. The same areas are great to while away the hours watching out for seals and porpoises, and you may even see some dolphins.
In spring it’s time to take off your shoes and wander along the sand barefoot – it’ll help you to build up the courage for the first plunge of the summer, when you can swim among the seaweed and look out for jellyfish and other creatures. If you’re not inclined towards getting into the sea you can walk for hours along parts of the Wales Coast Path, stopping for a rummage on the beach or in the rockpools now and again as the path wheedles its way along the coast.
We are spoilt here in North Wales that we don’t have to go abroad to see colourful or alien-looking marine life, it’s all right here
on our doorstep.
We are lucky in our region to have so many beautiful beaches to enjoy, and even luckier that thanks to the dedication of the RNLI many of them are supervised by lifeguards to ensure our summer safety. Shire spoke to the experts about staying safe on the beach this summer
The distinctively clad red and yellow RNLI lifeguards have begun their summer safety service at key locations in North Wales, providing daily safety patrols across the region’s most popular beaches. Their presence means we can relax, not only as local day-trippers but also visitors from further afield such as Cheshire, Shropshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Matt Jessop, RNLI Lifeguard supervisor for the North Wales hotspots, is expecting another busy season for his team.
He said: ‘North Wales has a coastline with many attractive beaches, for example those at Rhyl and Prestatyn, and we would always encourage anyone planning a trip to the seaside to visit a lifeguarded beach and always swim between the red and yellow flags.’
RNLI lifeguards will patrol 38 beaches across Wales this summer. Last year they responded to 1,075 incidents in Wales and rescued or assisted 1,219 people. When they are on patrol, between 10am and 6pm until the end of the season on 2nd September, members of the public are encouraged to go and speak to them to get valuable tips about seaside safety.
Don’t make a splash
The RNLI recently launched its Respect the Water drowning-prevention campaign, with advice for anyone who finds themselves unexpectedly in cold water. Most people who die around the UK coast never expected to enter the water at all, and the RNLI is urging anyone who falls into cold water to fight their instincts and remember one simple skill – floating – which could save people from drowning. Even in the height of summer the water can remain surprisingly cold.
Matt said: ‘We often rely on our instincts, but our instinctive response to sudden immersion in cold water – gasping, thrashing and swimming hard – is potentially a killer. It increases the chances of water entering your lungs, increases the strain on your heart, cools the skin further and lets air escape from any clothing, which then reduces buoyancy.
‘Although it’s counter-intuitive, the best immediate course of action in that situation is to fight your instinct and try to float or rest, just for a short time. The effects of cold water shock will pass quite quickly, within 60-90 seconds. Floating for this short time will let you regain control of your breathing and your survival chances will greatly increase. It’s our goal to half the number
of accidental coastal deaths by 2024.’
The RNLI has a few simple rules to stay safe on the beach this summer:
• If possible, swim at a lifeguarded beach.
• Always read and obey the safety signs, usually found at the entrance to the beach. These will help you avoid potential hazards and identify the safest areas for swimming.
• When on a lifeguarded beach, find the red and yellow flags and always swim or bodyboard between them.
• Never swim alone.
• If you see someone in difficulty, don’t attempt a rescue. Tell a lifeguard or call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
For more information and advice on all aspects of beach and coastal safety visit www.rnli.org/safety