Chariots of fir: unusual coastal protection

Chariots of fir: unusual coastal protection
25 Dec
2017
For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits St Andrews to investigate a festive method for protecting the coast

For more great walks, trails and viewpoints, be sure to check out the new Discovering Britain Facebook page by clicking here.

db logo jpeg large

On West Sands, it’s hard not to hear the tune in your head, or run in slow motion. The beach played a key role in the 1980s blockbuster Chariots of Fire when it was trampled by a herd of bare-footed runners to the memorable Vangelis soundtrack.

In the film, the beach’s parallel lines of surf, sand and dunes give the illusion of a beach stretching endlessly northwards from St Andrews, even if it had been standing in for Broadsands in Kent. For decades, the iconic scene has brought visitors down to the waterside.

These days, however, the dunes at West Sands are in trouble. Large craters, or ‘blowouts’, are breaking the beach’s defences, leaving the land within exposed to flooding and further erosion. ‘Blowouts traditionally have been great places for the public to shelter in windy conditions,’ says Ranald Strachan, a countryside ranger for the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust. However, the constant footfall removes crucial vegetation – the native lime and marram grasses that anchor the dunes and help them grow. To make matters worse, the dunes are the primary defence for the world’s oldest golf course, the Old Course, which has been here since 1552. Erosion now threatens the course and the beach, two of the town’s major tourism draws.

A disaster in 2010 put the Trust into action. ‘A large storm surge destroyed part of the southern end of the dune system and broke through along several degraded areas,’ says Strachan. That year, a full dune restoration was begun. Strachan began searching for a material to fill the craters, something that could be easily sourced in the winter storm season. Then it occurred to him. ‘Christmas trees,’ he says. ‘They’re often landfilled after a short use at Christmas, so we asked local communities to donate them to coastal protection instead.’ When hundreds of trees arrived, the Trust enlisted volunteers to move them into the craters in a method known as ‘dutch basketing’.

Looking at one of the old blowouts, it’s clear the method works. The class of 2016 – once a pile of green fir trees – are now just a few rust-coloured crowns poking out of the sand. ‘Christmas trees have a great, open structure and trap sand well,’ says Strachan. They are buried in sand now, and with time, will break down allowing grasses to spread over the surface. With more trees needed this year, the practice has become something of a St Andrews tradition, with many locals swapping land fill for sand fill.

VIEWPOINT
• Location: Scotland
• Type: Coastal
• Duration: 15 minutes
Click here for more details

Unearth more of our nation’s history and find more great walks, trails and viewpoints around the UK at discoveringbritain.org or via the new Discovering Britain Facebook page.

This was published in the January 2018 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST DISCOVERING BRITAIN

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in UK...

UK

With Blue Planet II’s recent rally cry for environmental protection…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits St…

UK

A community of 28 bottlenose dolphins has made the southwest…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole explores Pontypool…

UK

From casual forays beneath to leading scientific breakthroughs, UK’s caving…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole heads to…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole visits Croydon,…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole visits a viewpoint…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole travels to…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits a glacier’s graveyard in…

Discovering Britain

In this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole explores Coed…

AONB

Although the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB is home to…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole heads to…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole travels to Sheffield, which…

UK

As it celebrates turning 50-years-old, Milton Keynes is bracing for…

UK

Last year’s EU referendum revealed a divided country. Could genuine…

Discovering Britain

In this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits the…

AONB

The Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Trail, Laura Cole takes a walk…

UK

Twelve months on from Storm Desmond and one in five…