What does a historian make of a project designed to wipe all traces of industrial activity from a stretch of coastline in an attempt to revert it to its former, natural beauty? In the case of the Durham Heritage Coast, as it is now called, surely no one can complain. For as recently as the early 1990s, the East Durham seaboard was an industrial wasteland, made famous by distinctly unglamorous appearances in such films as Get Carter and Alien 3.
A century of coal mining activity had scarred the coast beyond recognition, waste-dumping from the scattering of collieries betwix the Tyne and the Tees placing the beaches in some areas beneath ten metres of black slag and poisoning the water and its natural habitat for several miles out to sea. Flora and fauna were devastated. Come the closure of the pits in the years leading up to the early 1990s, locals had long since turned their backs on the disgusting mess and cared little for nature’s woes in the face of their own collective economic plight.
The mid-‘90s saw a sea-change, though. With the availability of Lottery Fund cash, the local authorities rallied, and, with the help of a host of other organisations and vested interests, launched the ‘Turning The Tide’ (TTT) project in 1997 – and the clearance work began. Astonishingly, within its five-year remit, TTT had utterly transformed the landscape: by 2002 the coastline was well on its way to an incredible recovery – a process now being continued by local groups, the Durham Heritage Coast Partnership and nature itself.
Today there are 15 miles of new coastal footpaths and more than 30 miles of cycleways criss-crossing a unique magnesian limestone landscape which is home to all manner of rare and beautiful plants, insects and animals – all suitably protected by law and freed from farming use. For once, the wiping of our historic past has been welcomed by one and all – though it lives in on a scattering of information panels the length of the coastline.
The video, here, says and shows it all.