A look at the work of the Morecambe Bay Partnership
- Credit: Morecambe Bay Partnership
Passionate locals are helping to spread the word about the glories of Morecambe Bay. Paul Mackenzie reports.
Morecambe Bay covers an area of 120 square miles, has a coastline of more than 60 miles and is the UK’s second largest bay, and the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand. It is vitally important to birds and hosts hundreds of thousands of waders, gulls and wildfowl every year. About 10 per cent of the UK’s salt marsh is here and five rivers drain into it.
But the bald facts can never do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the bay, which is one of the natural wonders of Lancashire. The breathtaking, ever-changing views, the vast skies, seemingly endless shimmering sands and sweeping seascapes make this a special place for visitors and those lucky enough to live by it.
But not everyone has a positive view of the bay. For some, it will always be associated with the tragic deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in 2004. For others, it is a place not to be explored, but to be glimpsed from a distance and at speed as they head north to the Lake District, or south to the county’s great cities.
Now though, efforts are being made to make more people aware of the bay and what it has to offer. The Morecambe Bay Partnership is a charity founded in the 1990s in response government austerity measures.
Initially the members put pressure on local authorities to keep the bay in their minds and to take on projects but in recent years – in the wake of further funding cuts – they have delivered more projects themselves.
Executive director Susannah Bleakley has been involved with the group for more than 20 years and said: ‘We really want to improve the image of the bay. The people who love it know it’s magnificent but people from outside have few connections with the area. We would really like people to have a more positive image and to give them more reasons to visit as well as networks of things for people to do.’
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Susannah is originally from Bolton but now has views across the bay from her home at the head of the Lyth Valley. She worked for oil giants Shell before moving to the Partnership. ‘The work we do is around the heritage, environment and archaeology of the bay as well as projects to encourage people to come to the bay,’ she said.
‘The scale and grandeur of the views is the unique selling point of the bay. They are nourishing. People climb mountains for big views but here you don’t need to, you can get a sense of being lifted above the troubles of the every day. These views help put things in perspective. Wherever you are there are incredible landscapes, seascapes or skyscapes which can be refreshing, relaxing and inspiring. There are always new things to explore and new ways to explore them.
‘A part of our role is to do what is called “place making”, drawing attention to the bay and helping people to recognise what is special about the area and to turn indifference into a great source of pride. People tend to be unimpressed by what they know and what is familiar to them. In an area like Norfolk much of the coast is classified as a nature reserve which immediately marks it out as being of enormous importance but Morecambe Bay is every bit as important, even though it is not all nature reserves.’
The Partnership, which now has ten staff, three of them full-time, has worked on scores of projects concerned with the wildlife, history and tourism around the bay. They are keen to promote Love My Beach which aims to improve the cleanliness of the sands and bathing waters, and among their recent successes is the Bay Cycle Way which is due to see seven hire points, each with four electric bikes and chargers unveiled this month.
‘Cycling has gone through an incredible growth but all the existing routes were not for mere mortals – they were all tough, hilly routes that were very demanding,’ said Susannah. ‘Most of the Bay Cycle Way is flatter, it’s like an entry level route for families.
‘It’s route 700 on the national cycle network and it brings a lot of people from around the north west and further afield. In its first two years the route map has been the fastest selling of all the national cycle network maps – it has had to be re-printed.’
The Partnership has also worked with local people and artists to create a series of maps which give a unique insight into the places, landmarks and stories around the bay. The Seldom Seen maps, which are available online or in shops around the bay, include pictures and information suggested by locals.
And while maps may be old technology, the Partnership is embracing new technology, too.
They already have a number of guided walks on free smartphone apps. Susannah added: ‘We would love there to be a single place for visitors to come and hear the stories of the bay but we are cautious of seeking to do something along the lines of a museum or visitor centre in the current climate. In Lancashire some very difficult decisions are being made about the future of places like that.
‘We are very interested in alternative ways of doing things such as apps that can bring the views alive with stories and we are exploring ideas around a folk museum which could possibly be displayed in different locations, libraries and other public places.’