A STRETCH of North-East coastline once blighted by industry is celebrating 20 years of Heritage Coast status, which places it on the same footing as the world-renowned coasts of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

For Durham Heritage Coast, now called the Heritage Coast of Sunderland, Durham and Hartlepool, the journey to receive the designation was more challenging than most, after centuries of industrial activity had left its marks on the landscape.

The successful £10.5m Turning the Tide project, a partnership of 14 organisations which launched in 1997, addressed many of the issues facing the coast, including the removal of 1.3 million tonnes of colliery spoil. When the project was completed in 2001, Heritage Coast status was awarded.

Easington as it used to appear

Easington as it used to appear

Heritage Coast Officer Niall Benson said the future for the area looks brighter than ever, with a whole generation who have grown up not knowing how bad things once were.

Niall said: “Those of us of a certain age can well remember how bad this area once looked. The beaches were famous for all the wrong reasons.

“Thankfully, those memories are fading fast and it’s a source of great pride for us that the children and young people, and even the young adults, we see enjoying the coast today have only ever known it as it is now.

“It’s hard to believe it’s 20 years ago this month that we first proudly announced we had received Heritage Coast status.

The Northern Echo:

“Where colliery spoil once blackened the beaches, now we have seals basking and sky larks singing. It’s a world away from what it once was and every day nature helps us by reclaiming a little bit more for herself.

“It took an incredible effort from so many different people and organisations to get there. And those same organisations, and in some cases the same people, are still pulling together today and ensuring we have a great deal more to look forward to in the future.”

The Heritage Coast is a wonderful mosaic of great natural, historical and geological interest, with dramatic views along the coastline and out across the North Sea, an area rich in shallow bays and headlands with yellow magnesian limestone cliffs.

It encompasses some of the most dramatic coastline in the North, with a rich shoreline worthy of the highest status nature conservation designations.

Darcie Rawlings, 20, of Consett, who is studying marine biology at Newcastle University, was born the same year as Durham’s coast was awarded Heritage Coast status.

Darcie said: “This stretch of coastline is stunning and often really underappreciated. I’ve loved visiting the area while I’ve been studying species regeneration. In fact, I was initially attracted to study kelp here because it’s Durham and I’m from the county.

“I’ve very fond memories of family trips to Roker and Seaburn as a child visiting my granddad, so the chance to spend more time elsewhere on the Heritage Coast has been fantastic.

“It’s a wonderful place to visit and there’s so much to see and enjoy here. So much natural beauty and all kinds of history to explore.”

During lockdown more visitors than ever have enjoyed the area, a four-fold increase in some parts, and this has brought new enthusiasm for the coast along with a few new challenges.

The next chapter of The Heritage Coast of Sunderland, Durham and Hartlepool is now underway thanks to £5m funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for the new SeaScapes project.

SeaScapes will deliver 23 projects, both on-shore and beneath the sea, from South Shields to Teesmouth over the next four years and will offer opportunities for visitors to explore the coastline’s heritage, beautiful beaches and dramatic cliff-top views, while also strengthening our understanding of the sea and our relationships with it.

The project is only possible because of the open collaboration and support from all the partners involved, led by the Heritage Coast Partnership, and these include:

South Tyneside, Sunderland, Durham and Hartlepool Councils, National Trust, Northumbrian Water, Durham Wildlife Trust, North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, Natural England, Groundwork, Marine Management Organisation, the Environment Agency, East Durham Heritage Group, Living History North East, Heugh Battery and Durham University, Sunderland University and Newcastle University.

Heritage Coasts are sections of the coastline in England and Wales designated for their natural beauty, wildlife and heritage. Established in 1972, the classification scheme helps protect coastal areas of important scenic and environmental value and promotes public access.