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Original article

Cultural heritage and sustainability in the coastal zone:

experiences in south west England
Peter Howard
*, David Pinder
Formerly, University of Plymouth, Earl Richards Road North, Exeter, EX2 6AS, UK
Department of Geography, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK
Theoretical ideas of sustainability of heritage are applied to a practical case study. The south western peninsula of England has a rich variety
of coastal heritage, analysis of which is undertaken via the elds of nature, landscape, buildings, sites, artefacts, activities and people. The
value of treating the cultural heritage apart fromthe natural heritage is seriously questioned, particularly in a coastal context. Disputes relating
to the preference for one type of heritage over another are identied. While major successes are demonstrated in landscape and urban
conservation, numerous failures and challenges are also recognised. It is argued that, reecting institutional dominance of the conservation
agenda, the heritage most at risk is often that which carries most meaning for local people and traditional visitors. Relating the study to the
sustainability dimensions of economic development and environmental protection, the paper questions whether these wider denitions of
sustainability can be applied to coastal heritage, especially in a remote region.
2003 ditions scientiques et mdicales Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
The south western peninsula of England, like so many
parts of Europe, has always lived by the sea. Its coast remains
fundamental to its economy by attracting visitors, a magnet
reinforced by the heritage legacy of a wide range of activities,
such as shing, farming, shipbuilding and defence. Conse-
quently it forms an excellent case study for exploration of the
problems of sustainability and the cultural heritage, in part,
because of the innite variety of that heritagethe things
that people wish to save from oblivionand also because of
the different stakeholders and their various and competing
agenda. Against this background, this paper pursues three
themes. First it argues that analysis is central to a full appre-
ciation of the breadth and scale of the potential cultural
heritage resource base. It suggests that this analysis can be
effectively conducted by applying the concept of elds of
heritage, and by questioning the validity of recognising the
accepted dichotomy between cultural and natural heritage in
the coastal zone. Second, the spotlight moves to successes
and issues in cultural heritage conservation, partly to bring
into focus the quarters from which successful conservation
has come, but also to demonstrate that a balanced overview
must acknowledge the numerous obstacles that even today
continue to confront the conservation movement. Finally,
attention centres specically on cultural heritage and sustain-
ability. Here, the predominant concerns are the degree to
which there is evidence that heritage is providing the foun-
dation for revivied, sustainable local economies, and the
implications which modes of cultural heritage consumption
have for the broader issue of economic development and the
environment. Beyond this, however, questions are also raised
concerning the implications of change in the physical
environmentin particular global warmingfor the preser-
vation of coastal cultural heritage.
One nal introductory point is appropriate. South west
England can be dened in a variety of ways, and this article is
not concerned to be over-precise in the area from which
examples are taken. It certainly includes the coasts of Devon
and Cornwall (together with the Isles of Scilly) and much of
Dorset and Somerset. A convenient denition is provided
byone of its most important heritage features, the 987 km-
long South West Coast Path, a National Trail which runs
almost continuously along the coast, from Poole in Dorset
around Cornwall to Minehead in Somerset. Fig. 1 indicates
the extent of the region based on this denition.
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (P. Howard).
Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
2003 ditions scientiques et mdicales Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.
DOI: 1 0 . 1 0 1 6 / S 1 2 9 6 - 2 0 7 4 ( 0 3 ) 0 0 0 0 8 - 6
2. Fields of heritage in south west England
2.1. The natural heritage
Narrow denitions of heritage, often based on traditional
academic boundaries, frequently prove insufcient. Archae-
ologists, used to working with the material artefacts of cul-
tures, usually long since dead, nd themselves working with
existing peoples, uncovering their oral heritage [1,2]. Any
denition based on the materiality of heritage soon has to
treat with people whose heritage is encapsulated in their
language, in Catalonia, in Quebec or Wales, for example [3].
The title of this journal itself perpetuates one such division,
though a very well recognised one, between cultural heritage
and natural heritage. Most cultural scholars feel themselves
ill-equipped to deal with the conservation of tigers, or
jungles, or rock formations, and the reverse is doubtless also
true. However, on the coast particularly, even this apparently
self-evident distinction between the natural and the cultural
cannot be sustained. The attempt to save the cultural coastal
heritage is likely to put at risk the natural heritage of cliffs or
mudats, of birds or sh. Indeed as those mudats are prob-
ably inhabited by birdwatchers, practising an indisputably
cultural activityby recording items of the natural heritage
and probably paying for their conservationthe distinction
looks less and less tenable. Considered in terms of the legal
tools of heritage, the techniques of interpretation, curatorial
principles, and both the philosophy of heritage and practical
sitemanagement techniques, we nd that the zoo, the mu-
seum, the nature reserve and the scheduled monument have a
great deal to learn from each other.
Throughout Englands south west peninsula the rst heri-
tage eld, the natural heritage, plays a critical role (Fig. 2).
One signicant part of it, the coast from Exmouth to
Swanage, has been designated (December 2001) as a World
Heritage Site, recognising its importance in the history of
geology, and its current signicance as a source of palaeon-
tological material [4]. There are numerous Sites of Special
Scientic Interest, including the Ramsar sites of the Exe
estuary. Off the north coast, the waters around the island of
Lundy are the United Kingdoms only Marine Nature Re-
serve, while terrestrial National Nature Reserves are at Slap-
ton Ley, Lyme Undercliff and elsewhere. The signicance of
natural heritage immediately brings into question ideas of
sustainability. One of the most signicant factors of the
World Heritage Site is the rapid disintegration of many of its
cliffs. This is a classic site for the study of landslips, which
provide a continuous supply of new fossils. Such a site
immediately puts strains on heritage concepts of conserva-
tion. Both here, and in the ever-changing mudats so vital for
bird life, concepts of sustainability can seem remarkably
Fig. 1. South west England. Names relate to places mentioned in the text.
58 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
2.2. Landscape
Landscape is recognised as a cultural eld more com-
monly in England than elsewhere. Here it is dignied by
having its own quasi-non-governmental organisation, the
Countryside Agency, distinct from English Nature on one
side and English Heritage on the other [5]. Landscapes,
varying from small gardens to mountain ranges, are con-
served for cultural reasons, rather than for their natural sci-
entic features; they are clearly conserved for human beings
rather than other species. Much of the south west coast is
conserved primarily for its landscape value, expressed
through the grandeur of cliffs (Fig. 3), the imprint of farming,
or both. The coast of Exmoor lies within a National Park;
those of East and South Devon, much of Dorset and Cornwall
are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Heritage
Coast designations apply both to these AONBs and to much
of the remainder of the coast, ensuring that the district coun-
cils employ staff specically for their conservation expertise.
The enjoyment of these landscapes is the major reason for the
existence of the coastal footpath. But seascapes are vital too.
A casual visit to the promenade in every south west resort
will reveal people simply sitting, either in their cars or on
benches, staring at the sea. These resort seafronts are often
the only bits of undesignated coast, looking across the bath-
ing beach at the always changing seascape. It may be uncon-
servable, but the sea itself is a landscape attraction of many
decades standing [6].
Quite apart from their visual attributes, landscapes have
cultural meaning [7]. At the Tate Gallery St Ives, towards the
far west of the peninsula, one huge window is devoted to a
carefully framed view of Porthmeor Beach. Specialists from
other elds forget at their peril that in conserving this rock
formation, or that building, they are also interfering with a
Fig. 2. South west England: ofcial protection of the natural heritage.
Fig. 3. Typical cliffed coastline and rocky foreshore.
59 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
landscape that might have major local or national cultural
signicance, sometimes expressed in painting, music, poetry
or novels. The coast around Newlyn and St Ives was favoured
by major artists, including the sculptor Barbara Hepworth
and the painter Stanhope Forbes. The Fowey estuary is the
focus of Daphne du Mauriers novel Rebecca, while Purbeck
in Dorset can scarcely be considered in isolation from Tho-
mas Hardys novels and the lms made from them. There are
many views on the coast of Exmoor, for example, which form
the regular stuff of picture postcards and tourist brochures,
vital to the economy of the whole area [8]. Some landscapes
are even more obviously cultural, and the gardens of Corn-
wall in particular are major visitor attractions. Lying in shel-
tered, steep little combes running down to the sea, these
conserved gardens, such as Trebah, are as much part of the
coastal heritage as the rugged cliffs.
2.3. Monuments
The monuments sector is that which is most traditionally
regarded as heritage, comprising, as it does, xed elements
of material culture, selected for conservation, usually by the
guardian disciplines of archaeology and architectural history.
In this eld many of the ideas of public heritage were formu-
lated in the 19th century, especially in France and Britain,
and the sector can exhibit a proprietorial, if not exclusive,
attitude to the word heritage. This is very evident with titles
such as English Heritage. Inevitably there are many heritage
buildings along this coast, as elsewhere, some of them inti-
mately connected with the coast itself. In the sustainability
context, the Royal William Victualling Yard in Plymouth
represents those coastal features seeking a new life after the
exhaustion of their old one. Exeters splendid customs house,
from1668, is also currently being restored and seeking a new
use. The neighbouring 19th century warehouses, having
played their part in television drama, are now united by this
modern intervention and are in use as restaurants [9]. This
adaptive reuse is a process, which is far from new, and all
around the coast, former coastguard cottages and hotels are
now converted for residential purposes.
If some buildings are converted, others are just preserved,
as is Smeatons old lighthouse on the Hoe at Plymouth, saved
and re-erected when replaced in 1884. Lighthouses all
around the coast are now likely to be replaced or remodelled,
manned facilities having been phased out. Some are redolent
with historical signicancethe South Wests Bishop Rock
for example, fromwhichAtlantic voyages were measured, or
Godrevy lighthouse, made famous by the author Virginia
Woolf. Not all coastal buildings had coastal functions;
around the Lands End peninsula are the now-conserved
remains of the winding houses of tin and copper mines whose
visual grandeur is greatly increased by a coastal location
(Fig. 4). As elsewhere, the movement for conserving build-
ings has shifted in a vernacular direction, so that the National
Trust has now restored the small hut from which Marconi
rst sent telegraphic messages, on the cliffs of the Lizard
peninsula. Yet there is also a constant tension between this
vernacularising tendency and the need for new coastal devel-
opment. At Exmouth, for example, the Shellya group of
shacks by the shorehas not been conserved but redevel-
oped into a marina complex.
2.4. Sites
The sites eld takes the debate into areas where the
heritage is less material. Some locations are heritage not for
any material element, but for their signicance; not for the
substance but the cultural meaning. In the south west, Lands
End is signicant more for its position than its landscape, and
there are many other sites where the meaning may not strike
the casual observer. Sometimes the signicance is given by
authors or artists or lm-makers, but others have historical
input. Fine examples are the Mayower Steps in Plymouth,
whence the PilgrimFathers sailed for America, and the site in
Torbay where William of Orange landed to take the British
crown. Tragic sites often live longest, and this coast, as with
so many throughout western Europe, is littered with the sites
of shipwrecks. Divers may visit the actual remains, but for
the general public the bookshops are full of literature direct-
ing visitors and locals to these sites of morbidity, some very
ancient, others very recent. In living memory, the wreck of
the oil tanker Torrey Canyon in 1976, and the local tragedy of
the loss of the Penlee lifeboat and its crewin December 1981,
are signicant.
The events and persons with whom sites are connected
may be entirely mythical, one major example in north Corn-
wall being at Tintagel, a supposed location of King Arthurs
castle. Such sites are public enough, but all residents, and
Fig. 4. The Levant Mine, Penwith, Cornwall. The restored building in the
centre houses the Levant beamengine, a fully refurbished and working mine
steam engine. Owned by the National Trust, refurbishment was also funded
by the EU(ERDF), a European Architectural Heritage award, the Rural
Development Commission, Penwith District Council and the Trevithick
60 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
most return visitors, carry a mental catalogue of places where
past incidents occurred. To the authors, the coast of south
west England is littered with places of signicance, the result
of many visits with family and others. Every metre of the
coast is important to someone. Such private sites need not be
publicly managed, but managers of ofcial heritage ignore
them at their peril. The issue usually is one where the conser-
vation of authentic remains is replaced by the need to com-
memorate specic events. On the beach at Slapton Sands
stands a Sherman tank. The authenticity of the tank, or
whether it was truly found here, is of little signicance
compared with what it commemorates: the fact that this area
was a practice ground for American troops before the Nor-
mandy Landings in World War Two, and that many of them
lost their lives here in disastrous exercises.
2.5. Artefacts
The tank, of course, is a movable object, and perhaps
geographers tend to forget that not all heritage is ineluctably
located; a great deal of it can be moved about, stored in
museums, or sold in auction houses. Much of the maritime
heritage has indeed been relocated into museums, or into
peoples homes and gardens. Rusty old anchors adorn many a
front garden, and most regional and some national museums
contain signicant maritime collections. The National Mari-
time Museum at Greenwich now has an offshoot at Fal-
mouth, which will include Suhaili, the boat in which Sir
Robin Knox-Johnston circumnavigated the globe, and there
are other collections at almost every coastal town around the
peninsula. Many of the artefacts displayed have, of course,
come from shipwrecks, and this is a particularly fertile eld
of controversy between different interest groups. But the
most obvious movable artefacts are naturally ships, and ter-
restrial buildings and other maritime heritage remains have
often come a poor second behind the romance and fascina-
tion of the conserved, or even the reconstructed, ship when
conservation monies have been disbursed.
2.6. Activities and ways of life
So much for the material heritage; but there are so many
things which people wish to hand on to succeeding genera-
tions which are not material at all, or only incidentally so.
The eld of activities or ways of life is therefore of
enormous scale, ranging from language, through diet and
drink, to customs and games, to the performing arts. (The
material arts nd a home under artefacts.) The heritage of the
coastal zone includes the entire culture of howto use it. Many
people are less interested in preserving authentic old ships
than in sailing them, and if that means they are less authentic,
and need a Satellite Navigation System and an engine, then
so be it [10]. Coastal activities include not only the culture of
walking, so comprehensively evident around the peninsula,
but also that of sunbathing and of sea-shing. Heritage is not
only the material lobster pot, but also the ability to make one,
and perhaps too the recipe to cook the catch. The composer
Henry Newbolts Songs of the Sea are as much part of the
south west maritime heritage as the lighthouses. As will be
noted later, here international and national systems of heri-
tage protection break down; so many things fall in-between
[11]. Governments seem unable to devise systems to protect
the heritage of ways of life, although they have made at-
tempts to conserve language through legal means, and local
foods through systems such as Appelation Controle. But if
government initiative is often ineffective, people have found
their own methods: the world is full of societies to run the
local carnival, or teach folk dancing, or howto sail old sailing
ships. The Poldhu Amateur Radio Club uses Marconis cliff-
top hut to send messages all over the world, and on the
centenary of the original transatlantic radio signal in 1901, it
re-enacted the event [12]. In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
the recent revival of racing pilot gigs, sea-going wooden
boats, which took pilots out to ships, is one example of a
determination to conserve the activity as well as the artefact.
It is more concerned with rowing than carpentry. Others keep
the Dartmouth Regatta going as an annual event, while the
commercial success of the chef Rick Steins restaurant at
Padstow also sustains a tradition of seafood cookery associ-
ated with the region.
2.7. People
Finally, so much heritage, especially at the private rather
than public level, is about people. Often sites, artefacts and
buildings are really important only because of the people
with whom they are associated. In December 2001, the
people of Looe attended a service to mark the bravery of their
lifeboatmen who had carried out a rescue with conspicuous
gallantry 50 years before. An exhibition at Britains National
Maritime Museum of the artefacts from the Titanic was
clearly targeted towards the people rather than the signi-
cance of the material remains [13]. In Plymouth, a simple
plaque on the wall of a new marina ofce commemorates the
surviving crew of the Titanic and the place where they were
returned to safety (Fig. 5). While conscious of our inability to
keep our dearest alive [14] , we memorialise where we cannot
conserve. Our graveyards are obvious examples of the heri-
tage of people, and the graveyard at St Marys, Isles of Scilly,
where those lost in the wreck of the German emigrant ship
Schiller are buried, is particularly poignant. The problem of
death remains a daily problem in the coastal zone, as collec-
tors tread with ever greater caution on the remains of the
dead. Many wrecks are designated graves where the heritage
of people is supposed to take priority over that of artefacts. At
Rapparree Cove, in North Devon, human remains from an
18th century wreck were recently examined to see if they
were those of West Indian slaves known to have lost their
lives. Repatriation was seriously discussed.
As an exercise in classication, consideration of these
elds of heritage forces an expansion of our horizons as we
dene the things that have heritage value. Although, like all
classication, it is imperfect because it produces boundaries
that are profoundly unsatisfactory, it is nonetheless valuable.
61 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
The coastal zone exhibits all the elds, natural and cultural,
in great complexity. A conference for the holistic consider-
ation of the heritage of even the shortest stretch of coast will
necessitate a round table large enough to accommodate a
dozen different disciplines, including the folklorist as well as
the botanist. Add to that the simple issue that the coastal zone
extends both ways, seaward as well as landward, and we can
double the number of experts. All of which, of course, as-
sumes that heritage is indeed a matter for experts, which
itself is at least contentious.
3. Successes and issues in heritage conservation
There are some outstanding successes in heritage manage-
ment and designation around the peninsular coast. In the late
1960s, the National Trust which was already a signicant
landowner in the region, recognised a threat to the coast from
building development, together with the spread of caravan
and camp-sites. So began Operation Neptune, a major fund-
raising effort to purchase coastline for conservation that has
resulted in hundreds of km of outstanding coast coming into
National Trust ownership in Devon and Cornwall alone. To
the holdings the Trust has acquired over several decades one
can add the governments designation of a very large propor-
tion of the south west as Heritage Coast, and successful
negotiations with landowners to create the South West Coast
Path, which now leaves the open coast for only limited
distances in towns. In fact the large majority of the coast that
is regarded as scenic is quite carefully protected against
building development and is remarkably accessible, at least
on foot.
While landscape protection success is readily identiable,
so too is monument conservation. Here the theme of change
becomes important because conservation has been closely
associated with building adaptation or updating with respect
to either functions, or users or perceptions, or indeed any
combination of these. St Michaels Mount long ago ceased to
be a monastery and became a private home as the church lost
power and the gentry gained it. Function and user both
changed. Later it was transformed, in part at least, into a
visitor attraction, changing users again, though also remain-
ing a private home. Dartmouth Castle did not change its
function of guarding the River Dart estuary from invaders
until quite recently, but it was remodelled and updated con-
stantly to house different or improved weapons, including a
Second World War gun battery. Similarly, throughout the
region the decline of traditional coastal industriessuch as
shing, defence, some kinds of tourism and the export of
mined productshas led to heritage conservation through
change of use. Fort Picklecombe, originally a key defensive
investment barring enemy access to Plymouths naval port,
has been converted to holiday apartments and second homes
(Fig. 6). Although most of the coastal lime kilns have become
picturesque ruins, some have a new life as storerooms or
homes. And while the physical remains of an old gasworks in
St Ives have been completely demolished, the distinctive
shape of its dominant round gas holder is echoed in the
rotunda of the modern replacement building. Moreover this
building, as a regional branch of the Tate art gallery, adds
substantially to local cultural resources by displaying the
work of the many prominent artists who have worked in the
Echoing landscape conservation, agencies and other or-
ganisations have played a role in this monument conservation
process. English Heritage has responsibility for outstanding
examples such as Pendennis and Tintagel castles; the Land-
Fig. 5. The Titanic memorial, Millbay, Plymouth.
Fig. 6. Fort Picklecombe, Cornwall. Part of Plymouths defences, now
converted to residential use.
62 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
mark Trust has acquired a range of unusual buildings and
converted them to rented holiday accommodation; in west
Cornwall the Trevithick Trust has become the guardian of
several major industrial sites now open to visitors. Despite
this institutional role, however, the greatest degree of heri-
tage building protection has come through the steady gentri-
cation of the coastal zone. Some south west seaside settle-
ments have very high proportions of retired peopleat
Sidmouth or Budleigh Salterton, for examplewho have
invested extensively in their properties. Elsewhere, espe-
cially in Cornwall, some villages are dominated by renovated
holiday cottages and second homes. Parts of the coast have
been the residential choice for commuters to the larger towns,
so that much of the population of south east Cornwall works
in Plymouth. And the lure of the sea has similarly attracted
many who could work anywherenot least, of course, the
famous artists of St Ives, and writers of Lyme Regis. There
can be little doubt that the combined expenditure by new
owners on the conservation of the coastal zones vernacular
architecture has far outweighed the input of government
funds into major projects and, indeed, the investment now
being attracted by Cornwalls status as an EU Objective 1
Though cultural heritage conservation has been extensive
and often impressive, it has not been issue-free. In some
cases the conservation process has only been just in time. The
1930s art deco lido at Plymouth has been falling into disre-
pair for many years, but recent ofcial listing and the
current revaluation of modernist architecture may now save
it. In 2001, a strategy was devised for refurbishment based on
outdoor and indoor pools, plus other leisure facilities (Fig. 7).
Here it is important to recognise that perception remains
critical with respect to what will be valued and conserved,
perhaps even more noticeably in the coastal zone than else-
where. For example, the concept of the attractive landscape
has changed dramatically over time, causing even the same
place to be viewed differently. Only late in the 19th century
did the coastal prospect overtake the river scene as a pre-
ferred paintable landscape; and for tourists the most valued
type of coast varied dramatically during the 19th century as
seafront promenade resorts such as Weymouth or Sidmouth
lost favour to the coves of Ilfracombe, the Torquay of the
1850s and a fascination with Cornish villages 50 years later
[8,15]. In the 1850s, Murrays Guide could still ignore the
great sandy beaches of north Devon [16]. Not only were
different places preferred, the same place was seen differ-
ently. The estuary of the River Dart, from Totnes to the sea,
was certainly well regarded before 1830 as a string of
lakes, yet only interesting at high tide and rather like Lake
Geneva. By mid-century, it had become the English Rhine
and by 1890, it was more like some Scotch sea-loch [17].
Such perceptual change underlies both the motivation for
heritage conservation, and its results. As one process leads to
buildings and districts falling into disrepair, so another leads
to their recategorisation as worthy heritage.
Despite this process, in many other cases the revaluation
has not been quick enough. At Exmouth the wooden chalets
and shacks on the Shelly have now been demolished to make
way for new apartment blocks overlooking the old dock,
itself being converted into a marina. In spite of the numerous
shermens cottages and former shing ports, the heritage of
shing as a dominant local way of life is now scarcely
detectable throughout much of the peninsula. The stink of
sh has largely been lost [18], as have other rich working
aromastar, diesel and various cargoesassociated with
dockside life. The port of Hayle on the north Cornwall coast,
once an important gateway for the export of metal ores and
the import of coal, stands derelict, its port infrastructures
long since swept away. The sounds that accompanied such
activity have been similarly replaced by the sounds of any
town, with the addition of herring gulls and wires slapping
against the masts of small boats. Also gone are the accompa-
nying clouds of dust, from lime being burnt, to coal being
off-loaded and china clay being loaded. Even though there
have been extensive successes, conservation is also ex-
tremely partial.
Run-down ports or waterfronts raise other issues, because
one particular focus of civic authorities attention has been
the harbour-sideas much in south west Britain as the rest of
the world, from Brisbane to Baltimore and on to Bristols
Floating Harbour. These districts often exemplify the selec-
tion of particular heritage pasts for particular groups of
stakeholderswith implications for the exclusion of others.
At Exeter Quay a run of cellars which once housed ordinary
activities, such as a car paint-spraying workshop and a
second-hand motorcycle establishment, found their rents in-
creased beyond their means, allowing neat, acceptable, craft
workshops to take their place. The same went for people. The
young motorcyclists were clearly the wrong kind of visitor
so, in an attempt to attract quite different outsiders, the
insiders needs for a place to stroll, or to get the car sprayed,
were overridden by remodelling the urban landscape. The
street furniture was replaced, and the area re-cobbled. The
Historic Quayside, as it is now known on the brown tourist
signs, was obviously intended to be an exercise in the dem-
onstration of local identity and sense of place. But, as the
Fig. 7. Plymouths art deco waterfront lido, now disused and badlydecayed.
63 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
craft workshops have opened and the fancy street furniture
from a heritage catalogue has been introduced, McDonaldi-
sation has been the consequence. The locality has become
part of the world-wide heritage phenomenon belonging to
no place and no particular time
The exclusion issue also relates to the perceptions of those
groups driving conservation, and extends well beyond the
urban waterfront. Throughout the south west, the coast that
has been conserved is essentially that of cliff and cove
(Fig. 8), leaving the shoreline within urban districts largely
undesignated. Consequently the coast preferred by tradi-
tional beach tourists remains unprotected while that pre-
ferred by walkers is carefully safeguardednot least from
the kind of accommodation and leisure facilities that tradi-
tional beach tourists prefer. To a degree, this reects the fact
that the traditional beach tourism marketlargely based on
rail travel and hotel or boarding house accommodation, plus
sandy beaches in a lively urban environmenthas been mi-
grating to warmer and cheaper Mediterranean venues. But it
may also be that traditional tourists have looked elsewhere at
least partly because they can perceive that the careful protec-
tion of heritage in the south west has made little provision for
conserving their own preferred landscapes and places. Argu-
ably, on the contrary, heritage has been conserved as much
from them as for them [19]. The interests of the classic
heritage or eco-touristspredominantly white, middle-class
and even middle-agedhave prevailed.
Governments, whether national or local, can be powerful
agencies in this exclusion process as they manipulate and
select for conservation the heritage that gives the image they
seek. This acts as a kind of censorship, and is particularly
apparent in the coastal zone where governments can often
add the power of ownership to that of legislation. Exclusion,
however, is also a function of the activities of academic
disciplines with interests in coastal heritage. These disci-
plines include many with a desire to conserve the natural
rather than the cultural heritage, but their activities, and the
designations that they include, can have a major impact on
cultural activities. Sometimes, in the case of particular nature
reserves, this maydeny access to all except themselves. The
coast is littered with a panoply of scientic designations:
Sites of Special Scientic Interest, some ecological but many
geological; National (and indeed local and marine) Nature
Reserves; and Ramsar sites on wetlands. These academic
interests may dispute control over the area among them-
selves, but their common agenda (largely shared by govern-
ments and their local and national advisory bodies) precludes
many of the interests of many visitors, most notably the
traditional summer holiday-maker. If that traditional
holidayand the coastal heritage associated with itis in-
deed dying, then it has been a death at least in part engineered
by the academic-government heritage lobby.
One nal, but not unrelated, issue must be noted. The new
heritage coast is remarkably photogenic, because that is
what is needed. The emphasis is rmly on the visual. At
Fowey, where there is still china clay trafc, it is neatly
tucked out of sight upriver, away from visitors cameras. The
newheritage is clean and tidy, a concept long associated with
control. The seafront shacks on the Shelly at Exmouth were
seen as scruffy, unpainted, by no means uniformly in good
repair, and probably a health hazard. Only now is the percep-
tion beginning to shift that such heritage, without an archi-
tects name in sight, might be as meaningful as a palace. The
holiday camp at Minehead, the long rows of beach-side
chalets in all the resorts, and perhaps one day the older
caravan sites, may also be due for rehabilitation. If so, how-
ever, this raises a further complication. The conservation of
the untidy, like that of the ruin, is a difcult technical exercise
if the very charm that led to the designation is not to be
destroyed. At Tintagel, the National Trust has had great
difculty in re-roong acceptably the Old Post Ofce, a
building famous for its skew rooine caused by the original
use of poor timber.
4. Sustainable development
Sustaining the cultural heritage by converting it to new
uses, for new users, following new agenda, is nothing new.
Sail-lofts have become artists studios for many years, and
with hindsight a number of substantial sustainability suc-
cesses in this context can be claimed.
When the National Trust engaged with the large-scale
conservation of the wilder parts of the coast in the 1970s, and
when this was linked with local government action to create
the South West Coast Path, those involved were perhaps
unaware of the economic potential of their initiatives. But the
It is only fair to add that the Exeter Bollard was designed for Exeter
Quay, and is now in demand from all over the world.
Fig. 8. Cliff, cove and former shing community: a typical association of
natural and cultural heritage.
64 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
foot and mouth crisis in south west England in 2001 brought
it home to all that access to land and footpaths, of which the
coastal footpath is the jewel in the crown, is critical to the
regions economy. Suspension of access rights in order to
protect the interests of farmers immediately hit virtually all
tourism businesses, including those of farmers who had di-
versied out of animal husbandry and at great expense had
converted farm buildings into tourist accommodation. Re-
cently, the south west has witnessed heavy investment in
sewage treatment plant by the regional water company in the
pursuit of a return to clean sea water. While much of the
impetus has come from Europe in the form of water quality
regulations, the organisation Surfers Against Sewage has also
been inuential, not least because of the considerable media
attention it has attracted. At rst sight this movement relates
simply to conservation of the natural heritage: the demand
that one might enjoy a clean ocean and that ones children
might inherit it. Yet it is also intimately connected to the goal
of sustaining cultural heritage. Surng is the latest form of
the regions age-old cultural tradition of sea use and already
brings substantial income to parts of the south west. Growing
sea pollution would threaten this new economy, and also
other income derived from cultural activity based on a
healthy environment, from specialist ornithology to more
general holiday-making.
In the settlement context, meanwhile, the heavy invest-
ment in the conservation of vernacular architecture noted
earlier has been crucial in halting downward spirals and
securing future economies based on income from new resi-
dents and tourists attracted by the conserved townscapes and
villages. More specically, in the resort town of Weymouth,
the local council owns a large number of Regency terraced
properties along the sea-front which are let as hotels. English
Heritage has been involved in advising the local council in a
refurbishment scheme, involving new lighting and new sig-
nage and front graphics to an agreed range of designs. The
hoteliers at rst resisted, considering that only a completely
free hand would enable them to stress their distinctiveness
from their neighbour. After a free trial, however, the hotels
have developed new custom, and are now keen supporters of
the scheme. Fine buildings have been recovered from de-
cline, and hoteliers are making greater prots from more
satised customers.
Despite such examples, there are clear signs that conser-
vation leading to long-term economic sustainability is an
extremely challenging goal. Viewing the regions coast in its
totality, a sustainable future economy, let alone a sustainable
biosphere, may not be brought much closer by such activity.
Moreover, as these signals are examined, they begin to call
into question apparent sustainability successes such as those
noted above.
In some instances, sheer scale is a major obstacle. This is
certainly one factor that has hampered the successful re-use
of important defence facilities. These include Plymouths
Royal WilliamVictuallingYard, as discussed by Pinder else-
where in this issue, and the whole of the former naval base at
Portland. There one of the largest harbours in southern En-
gland now lies largely unused. In such sites there is the very
real risk of expensive investment, particularly in the conser-
vation of outstanding buildings, leading to no appropriate
new use. In some localities scale is also an issue with respect
to the inux of newcomers who have been responsible for the
conservation of so much domestic architecture. In Exmoor
National Park this immigration and associated cultural heri-
tage consumption has driven housing prices to such a level
that the Park Authority is seeking means to ensure that local
people working locally will have priority for housing. With-
out this there is the very real danger that cultural heritage
conservation will not go hand in hand with the sustainability
of the community.
As the Royal WilliamYard example implies, public own-
ership can be a burden and involve considerable cost that may
threaten sustainability. South from Exeter runs the Exeter
Ship Canal, perhaps the oldest such canal in the country, part
of the route dating from the 16th century. It is entirely in the
ownership of Exeter City Council, but the southern and more
modern end lies within the connes of a neighbouring district
council, Teignbridge. That lower, newer, section has been
designated as heritage by the Teignbridge authority; it is an
ofcially listed building and, as the owner, Exeter City Coun-
cil is required to maintain it as such. However, Exeter has not
so far felt the need to designate as a monument the section
within its own jurisdiction, even though it is the older section.
Similarly, in the late 1990s, the Exeter authorities decided
against greater support for one of the regions major collec-
tions of boats, at the citys maritime museum; this collection
has nowbeen broken up and dispersed to many other sites. In
an era of extremely tight budgets it can be expedient to avoid
taking on additional economic burdens voluntarily, yet this
may directly threaten heritage-based sustainability.
Major sustainability issues are associated with transport.
The south west peninsula is comparatively remote from the
rest of Englanda typical example of a region which is a
heritage-rich periphery rather than a nancially-rich centre
[20]. Modern tourists, largely encouraged by the heritage
conserved for them to enjoycoastal footpaths, gardens,
museums, harbours, castles, industrial architecture, etcare
overwhelmingly dependent on the car. Though visitors may
well walk the coast path, or cycle the trails provided, they get
there by road, using the car to travel to the region and move
within it once they are there. Conditions are strikingly differ-
ent from the past, when the journey to and from the holiday
was normally by train, and when most time was spent enjoy-
ing urban seaside pleasures and occasional day trips by
coach. Admittedly, compared with many other regions the
south west of today has better opportunities to travel sustain-
ably using a relatively extensive rail network (Fig. 9). More-
over, for over a decade the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partner-
ship, a consortium of local authorities and national bodies
co-ordinated by Plymouth University, has worked explicitly
to promote sustainable tourism through more extensive use
65 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
of rail [21]. Yet the fact remains that the car continues to
Bringing more tourists to the area under these conditions
can never be disguised as a sustainable activity, and there are
far-reaching implications in terms of general environmental
impacts. Energy consumption for a car passenger is usually
at least double that for the same journey by inter city train,
and for local trains the gap is generally substantially greater.
The picture is even worse in a scenario in which signicant
numbers of tourists y to the region, as now seems highly
likely given a budget airlines recent decision to operate
between London Stansted and the south wests surng
Mecca, Newquay. But the questions raised with respect to
transport sustainability are also more subtle and more local.
More visitors mean more energy imports by pipelines and
overhead powerlines, as well as more sewage exports, or
treatment works. Despite the National Trusts brave decision
not to cater for the car at its Prior Park property in Bath, most
heritage attractions have little choice but to provide the car-
parks to enable them to survive. Is a meticulously conserved
walled garden converted into a car park sustainable? What
are the implications for the cultural landscape of the constant
threat of road widening schemes, largely to accommodate yet
more visitors cars? As usual, heritage is destroyed by its
The key role played by incoming tourists raises other
questions concerning economic sustainabilty. Although the
region has beneted from the national trend for short breaks
out of season, especially but not exclusively linked with
half-term school holidays in spring and autumn, tourism
remains heavily dependent on a very restricted main
seasonlittle more than 6 weeks in July and August. Eco-
nomically, therefore, a major cost is a great over-supply of
room space for most of the year. In labour market terms this
inevitably means extensive seasonal work; and because this
seasonal work is frequently poorly paid, it is often taken by
migrant workers from elsewhere in the UK and abroad. Thus
low earning potential is often coupled with external leakage.
Here we must acknowledge that a drifting tide of workers
was in the past typical of other coastal activities, from the
shing trade to times when the naval eet was in port. Yet in
modern sustainability terms these conditions do not suggest
that the cultural heritage supports a secure economy. The
recent award of EU Objective 1 status to Cornwall bears out
this conclusion, especially in the far west of the peninsula.
Fig. 9. The rail network of Devon and Cornwall.
66 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
One consequence of economic insecurity is, of course,
that it can feed back to impact on the material heritage. The
seasonality of the hotel trade, coupled with the modern trend
towards self-catering holidays, calls into question the future
of many large, architecturally important hotels in the major
resorts. These may be heritage problems in the making since
new uses are far from obvious. Even if the built heritage is
carefully conserved, the search for market-oriented new uses
can be a long and arduous one, as Exeters Customs House
demonstrates. Here there have been many attempts to nd a
function combining public access with conservation and
prot, but so far without success. The maintenance of empty
buildings may be of little value in promoting an economi-
cally sustainable future.
While economic considerations are important, future cul-
tural heritage sustainability must also be viewed in its physi-
cal context. The ravages of every winter give to all forms of
coastal conservation an element of risk not found elsewhere,
with the result that sustaining the coastal building can be an
unsustainable option. For example, in an era of increasing
storminess, Plymouths refurbished art deco waterfront
swimming pool will continue to be exposed to the elements
which initially brought about its physical decline. When
attempts are made to resolve physical threats, conict can
result, not simply between state agencies and the public but
also between state agencies themselves. Bideford has wit-
nessed a protracted dispute involving English Heritage and
the Environment Agency, with the people of Bideford in the
middle. Here the problem is the need to prevent further
inundations at spring tides, while at the same time preserving
the historic quayside.
Even more problematically, sustaining the built heritage
can easily put other heritages at risk. Saving the ne Regency
sea-front architecture of Sidmouth, for example, has meant
massive expenditure on the construction of protective islands
of boulders. Yet this work is probably connected with accel-
erated erosion of the cliffs at nearby Beer and Axmouth.
Despite this, Lyme Regis is working on the same agenda,
seemingly oblivious of the need for sustainability measures
for the built heritage to take account of the direct impact on
the natural heritage. The importance of such issues is under-
lined still further by the implications of global warming.
Rising sea levels will produce a whole newcrop of problems.
There are already places where any concept of sustainability,
or even of stasis, is absurd. The beach separating the sea from
the precious fresh-water lagoon at Slapton Ley was breached
in the winter of 2001. At the south wests newWorld Heritage
Site the Jurassic Coast is falling into the sea faster and more
dramatically than at any time since Queen Victoria was
drawn to the great landslip of 1839. Governmental advisory
bodies, as well as the National Trust, now accept that several
areas will be lost to the sea, although, of course, new wet-
lands may well be deposited. Hence the Trusts policy of
managed retreat, which accepts that signicant stretches of
coast will be inundated over the coming years. While this is a
reaction to physical processes, an unavoidable consequence
will be cultural landscape loss, which in some instances may
well extend to the built environment.
5. Conclusion
Application of the heritage elds concept clearly dem-
onstrates the diversity and richness of the south wests
coastal cultural heritage. Closer examination reveals suc-
cesses with respect to both conservation and progress to-
wards more challenging sustainability goals. At the same
time, however, the notion that the regions cultural heritage
has reached an essentially sustainable state cannot be seri-
ously entertained. Conservation has bypassed too much
coastal heritage, for example because of problems with rec-
ognition, the heritage mindsets held by the agenda-setting
elites, or the inadequacy of nancial resources relative to the
scale of the heritage legacy. Meanwhile, claims for the attain-
ment of sustainability goals are also questionable. Continu-
ing weaknesses in a tourism industry increasingly geared to
the exploitation of coastal cultural heritage do not suggest
movement towards long-term sustainability in the regional
economy. The dominant role of the car in tourism raises
serious environmental impact issues, locally and more gen-
erally. The rigorous coastal climate has long escalated the
cost of cultural heritage conservation, and in some localities
this cost mayspiral well beyond sustainable levels as the
consequences global warming, sea-level rise and increased
storminess are felt.
At its gloomiest, this scenario may suggest thatdespite
the best efforts of those engaged in conservation, and despite
the acknowledged successesin places the most appropriate
immediate policy could be managed ruination, a strategy in
fact suggested by Ruskin and Morris more than a century
ago. Conceptually this might be the cultural equivalent of the
managed retreat policies now increasingly accepted and
practised by those responsible for natural heritage. Until the
need for a sustainable future is more pressing than is cur-
rently the case, more pragmatic management policies will
have to be continued, and are certainly preferable to the
random destruction of all buildings and landscapes that have
outlived their current function.
However, what is also arguable, particularly in the light of
the conclusions drawn with respect to the environmental
implications of car-based cultural heritage tourism, is that the
goal of sustainable conservation should be shifted radically.
If tourism can never be sustainable, then conserving heritage
to serve the local population in very different ways might
well be. The recently created Regional Development Agency
is now quite clear that heritage, both natural and cultural, is
vital in attracting new industrial and commercial develop-
ment to the area [22]. It is not argued here that this is a perfect
solution. Past experience in the developed world has demon-
strated incontrovertibly the dangers of placing regional
economies in the hands of external decision-makers. Serious
job losses in Plymouth and in Torquays electronic industries
testify locally to the current reality of this problem. Yet the
67 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768
recent decision by the UKs Meteorological Ofce to relo-
cate from congested south east England to the cathedral city
of Exeter, a move inuenced and approved by its workforce,
demonstrates the appeal of natural and cultural heritage for
highly skilled and well-paid workers in sectors not subject to
the whims of the market. Moreover, it is now widely recog-
nised that the small business sector, comprising both migrant
business people and local entrepreneurs, can be crucial to the
stability and long-term sustainability prospects of regional
Clearly, the south wests cultural heritage has an important
role to play in attracting and retaining these small-business
entrepreneurial skills. In the planning context, therefore,
perhaps the major current challenge is to initiate the process
of making this paradigmshift. Tourismcannot be superseded
overnight; but it is important to recognise its limitations,
particularly with respect to the environment and economic
sustainability. And it is important, also, to perceive that
coastal cultural heritage has the potential to be a key driver
towards the reduction of those limitations.
Although these conclusions are drawn specically with
respect to the south west case study, their relevance to the
general relationship between coastal cultural heritage and
sustainability is substantial. Many coastal areas enjoy a cul-
tural heritage as rich as that found in the south west. A
common experience is the problem of sustaining that heri-
tage through conservation policies and the allocation of
scarce resources made available by governments and volun-
tary conservation bodies. Part of that experience is selectiv-
ity. By denition this poses threats to the cultural patrimony
assessed as being of low priority and, in consequence, tends
to exclude from the agenda the preference of substantial
groups in society. Even if such conservation issues did not
exist, many areas would share with south west England the
challenge of how to exploit cultural heritage as a resource
capable of contributing effectively to sustainable economic
development. Deteriorating climatic conditions threaten to
escalate conservation costs, with major implications for eco-
nomic viability. It is not self-evident that the automatic re-
sponse to cultural heritage exploitation further tourist
developmentwill genuinely bring about the degree of eco-
nomic strengthening which many coastal communities are
anticipating. And the continuing dominance of the car for
tourism points clearly towards the need for planned heritage
exploitation policies to be evaluated in cost-benet terms,
setting obvious and immediate economic gains against prob-
lems such as the impact of less obvious and less easily
quantied environmental degradation. While the work dis-
cussed is necessarily a case study, therefore, in various re-
spects it raises issues of widespread importance.
[1] L. Smith, DoingArchaeology: cultural heritage management and its
role in identifying the link between archaeological practice and
theory, International Journal of Heritage Studies 6 (2000) 309316.
[2] L. Smith, The archaeologists as a commodity: re-appraising the role of
archaeologists and their knowledge in CHM, Seminar Paper, The
Fourth Cambridge Heritage Seminar: The Condition of Heritage,
McDonald Institute, Cambridge, 28 April 2001.
[3] P. Gruffudd, D.T. Herbert, A. Piccini, Good to think: social con-
structions of Celtic heritage in Wales, Environment and Planning D,
Society & Space 17 (1999) 705722.
[4] World Heritage News 31, no. 3, 14th December 2001. See UNESCO
World Heritage Centre WWW pages at
[5] J. Sheail, Landscape and Nature: the great divide, Landscape
Research 13 (1988) 25.
[6] A. Corbin, The Lure of the Sea, Penguin, Harmondsworth; also
P. Brassley, On the Unrecognized Signicance of the Ephemeral
Landscape, Landscape Research 23 (1998) 119132.
[7] S.E. Larsen, Is nature really natural? Landscape Research 17 (1992)
[8] P. Howard, Landscapes: The Artists Vision, Routledge, London, 1991,
pp. 46.
[9] Exeter Quayside was used for the television series The Onedin Line in
the 1970s.
[10] G. Easthope, Heritage sailing in Australia: a preliminary schema,
International Journal of Heritage Studies 7 (2001) 185190.
[11] L. Young, Museums, heritage and things that fall in-between, Interna-
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[12] Reported by BBC Spotlight, 12th December 2001.
[13] S. Deuchar, Sense and sensitivity: appraising the Titanic, International
Journal of Heritage Studies 2 (1996) 212221.
[14] A subject much studied in D. Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign
Country, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985.
[15] P. Howard, Early tourist destinations: the inuence of artists chang-
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Atlas of south-west England, Exeter University Press, Exeter, 1999,
pp. 450452.
[16] J. Murray, A Handbook for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, John
Murray, London, 1851.
[17] P. Howard, above, op. cit 8 (1991) 195196.
[18] A process noted for Hull, in north east England, by D. Atkinson, S.
Cooke, D. Spooner, Tales from the river-bank; place-marketing and
maritime heritages, International Journal of Heritage Studies 8
[19] Not a new situation in the UK. See C. Williams Ellis, Britain and the
Beast, London, 1937. This is a call for landscape conservation, where
the eponymous Beast is the British public.
[20] M. Lapka, E. Cudlinova, Beyond the models of marginality, Interna-
tional Journal of Heritage Studies 4 (1998) 216229.
[21] C.A. Charlton, Public transport and sustainable tourism: the case of
the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, in: C.M. Hall, E. Lew
(Eds.), Sustainable Tourism: a Geographical Perspective, Addison
Wesley Longman, Harlow, 1998, pp. 132145.
[22] South West of England Regional Development Agency, Regional
Strategy for the South West of England 20002010, Exeter, 1999.
68 P. Howard, D. Pinder / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 5768