Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

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.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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...

Discovering Britain

Laura Cole visits the lowest point in Britain at 2.7…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole visits Cuckmere Haven…

Discovering Britain

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

Discovering Britain

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

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 Bristol,…

Discovering Britain

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

UK

New research demonstrates the harsh reality of UK immigration policy…

Discovering Britain

On this month's Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole heads to…

Discovering Britain

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

UK

‘Iconic mammals of the hill’ see populations dwindling in the…

Discovering Britain

In this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole visits Winchester’s chalk…

UK

A new interest in Cornish mines has been sparked amid…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole checks out…

UK

An ambitious, long-term project is hoping to bring trees back…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole follows the…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits Hay-on-Wye,…

UK

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to lead…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole walks up…

Discovering Britain

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