2020VISION - Morecambe Bay wildlife highlighted in new photographic exhibition

As autumn approaches grey seals congregate at their traditional breeding sites where the males fight

As autumn approaches grey seals congregate at their traditional breeding sites where the males fight for top dog status to help secure large harems of breeding females. Picture: Danny Green - Credit: Archant

Lancashire Life takes you on a summertime tour of our fabulous coast. Mike Glover starts us off in Morecambe Bay

At times Morecambe Bay's vast mudflats can appear devoid of life but below the gloopy mud lies rich

At times Morecambe Bay's vast mudflats can appear devoid of life but below the gloopy mud lies rich pickings for these cockle fishermen as well as thousands of wading birds. Picture: Peter Cairns - Credit: Peter Cairns/2020VISION

An exhibition highlighting the landscape and wildlife attractions of Morecambe Bay has been drawing in crowds eager to see the work of some of Britain’s finest photographers.

Named 2020VISION, the exhibition sets out to showcase 20 ambitious and inspiring UK projects that involve people who are working together to restore and re-connect whole ecosystems, not just for the benefit of wildlife, but for people too. Morecambe Bay is one such project.

Peter Cairns, one of the three wildlife photographers involved, said the project’s aim was to ensure habitats around the Bay worked more effectively at providing us with ‘natural services’ - fresh air, clean water, pollination and flood mitigation.

The exhibition has been touring the country and arrives in Grange-over-Sands in August. During its travels it has raised a lot of interest, with associated theatrical shows, talks and photographic workshops.

Morecambe Bay hosts some of the largest flocks of waders in the UK. Hest Bank RSPB Reserve is a grea

Morecambe Bay hosts some of the largest flocks of waders in the UK. Hest Bank RSPB Reserve is a great place to watch their spectacular aerial displays as they wheel in synchrony over the estuary. Picture: Andy Rouse - Credit: Andy Rouse / 2020VISION

But the exhibition also marks a first step in initiatives which promise to revitalise and benefit all the communities around the Bay from Walney Island in the north to Cockerham Abbey in the south.

The 2020VISION team has worked with Morecambe Bay Partnership, a charity that for 17 years has been working away in the background to support communities living north of the sands.

Now the partnership has secured substantial funding to deliver more for the Bay. For much of the time since it was launched in 1997, the partnership has been a one-woman show, run by former geologist Susannah Bleakley. She formerly worked around the world for Shell, developing an interest in environmental and community issues while in Indonesia.

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As executive director, she came to Morecambe Bay to kick start the partnership working with communities to devise projects that would be taken forward by councils. But they no longer have the funds for such schemes so Morecambe Bay Partnership has secured grants from elsewhere and taken on a range of projects.

‘We are a small charity that makes big things happen for the Bay’s communities. We are currently delivering projects worth over £3.5 million,’ said Susannah.

‘Morecambe Bay has an amazing landscape with awesome views, which constantly change. Even the sands shift. In the foreground you have inter-tidal channels, and then an exciting, dynamic, elemental landscape, with a backdrop of hills.

‘The result is big views which help people transcend the day-to-day stuff that bogs them down and helps them find some peace.’

That is why the Heritage Lottery Fund was persuaded to give a £1.9 million grant to the partnership’s Headlands to Headspace scheme, which will support communities to restore, enhance and celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of Morecambe Bay and boost the local economy.

Included in the plan is the creation of five leisure maps, known as Seldom Seen, developed with Barrow-based arts organisation Art Gene: one for the Islands of Barrow; one for the Furness Peninsula from Barrow to Ulverston; one for Cartmel Peninsula including Cartmel, Flookburgh and Grange over Sands; one for Arndale and Silverdale; and one for Morecambe and Heysham.

They will have motoring, cycling and walking routes highlighted, but fold out to give far more. ‘The maps give multi-layers of surprises, engaging stories and information to encourage a rich experience in exploring the Bay,’ said Susannah.

Communities are being consulted over content to hunt out new stories to tell. Many will be recorded and stored in a sound archive.

Heritage trails will be developed. One will be based on the World War relics on Walney Island, which still survive today - searchlight housing, gun placements, trenches and other defences put in to protect the harbour for the ship-building which was vital for both world wars.

‘Morecambe Bay is not a bucket and spade resort, but there are an interesting and exciting number of stories to tell and things to do,’ said Susannah.

An archaeology project is expected to throw light on Viking and Roman settlements and 200km of family friendly cycling routes will create a new Bay Cycle Way, stretching from Walney to Glasson. ‘Cyclists are good visitors, because they tend to spend money locally,’ she points out.

Susannah has two major ambitions, which will rely on partnership with other larger organisations – a walking and cycling route over the Arnside and Leven viaducts would be a major attraction and the restoration of Grange-over-Sands Lido.

Susannah swam in the lido as a little girl when visiting her grandparents in Lindale. In its heyday, it attracted thousands, as shown by a 1930s photograph of a beauty competition.

She believes it would need a brilliant plan and a highly talented manager to make it work. ‘But it is the only Art Deco Lido left in the north of England. For six months it could be for bathing, and warmed ecologically enough to take the edge off the cold. And in the winter it could be a performance centre with skating.’

Only time will tell if the dreams of Susannah and he colleagues can become a reality. If enthusiasm is the key, then success is guaranteed.

See the sites

The 100 powerful images in the 2020VISION exhibition will move from their current site outside The Forum in Barrow on August 2 to Grange-over-Sands Promenade until August 29th. The exhibition is free.

For more information go to www.morecambebay.org.uk