Blakeney Point and the Environmental Imagination
by Andy Stoddart
review by Andy Roadhouse
Shifting Sands a very well put together book not only about the history of Blakeney Point, but also of how the area has been used by all and sundry, the effects they have had and how they have shaped its future.
From a birder’s aspect, it is not about the birds recorded at Blakeney Point, this can be found very well documented in Andy Stoddart’s excellent book ‘The Birds of Blakeney Point’. However, the book shows us how the Point has both reflected and shaped our relationship with the natural world.
As a regular Spurn birdwatcher for over 30 years, I can see so many similarities, not only are Spurn Point and Blakeney Point both shifting three mile long spits of sand and shingle, that are constantly changing, but they are also similar in that both have been natural laboratories for our environmental ideas.
There are eight chapters, the first tells of the heyday of ‘gentlemen collectors’ when collectors would come to Cley and Blakeney in the season, to fill their trophy cabinets, bringing a new but short-lived commerce to the area. There are several accounts of the ‘collecting’ of certain rarities including several firsts for the British Isles, providing an interesting insight into this what we now call barbaric event and not much different to what is still happening in Malta, Cyprus and various other places around the Mediterranean.
Chapter 2 deals with the changing interest in nature and the developments in protecting wildlife throughout the country, which was pioneered at the Blakeney Point tern colony, which led to an incredible increase in terns but also Oystercatchers nesting there too.
Chapter 3 describes the evolution of the science of ecology and the important role which Blakeney Point played in its development.
Chapter 4 Blakeney Point became the first coastal nature reserve in Britain in 1912, and this chapter deals with the history of nature reserves, protected areas, how the National Trust and National Nature Reserves were founded, and asks what are reserves for and what they stand for in the future.
Chapter 5 describes the shifting geography of the Point and also the coast lines around Britain.
Chapter 6 tells how people started to ask questions about migration and the setting up of Observatories in Heligoland and the British Isles, including Cley Bird Observatory and the role it played.
Chapter 7 discusses the relationship man has with seals and their relationship with the Point, but also a wider aspect of relationships with animals and how this has changed over the years
Chapter 8 talks about landscapes and people’s perceptions of them, including Blakeney’s once bleak perception to a now fashionable place of beauty.
This book is very thought provoking, asking questions about our surroundings that so many of us take for granted. It should make us think that we can learn from history and use this for the future.
It is a very enjoyable book and when I picked it up to read, I found it hard to put it down. A softback publication with 170 pages and has some good old and new photographs dotted throughout.