In early August, preparations were underway for an exhibition of the 'We Are Building A Beach Hut' project. The exhibition was to feature work made during traditional skills workshops led by boat builder Ben Neville, which had given local people the opportunity to learn a range of joinery and timber techniques. The work was due to go up along West Bay at the end of August. At the same time, members of the community concerned about the untidiness of the plants growing in the shingle at West Bay campaigned via Facebook and directly to the Council. Argyll and Bute Council’s Amenity Services responded to these complaints and contracted the excavation of 400m of shingle and plants from the shore on the grounds of 'health and safety'.
For many residents, the scale and look of the biodiversity that had grown on West Bay was unacceptable, and there were genuine concerns about how the plant material looked to tourists. When you look back at old postcards of West Bay you don’t see many plants in the shingle and the contrast between then and now is striking. To some people, the plants growing through the shingle indicate neglect and a lack of care for West Bay.
The beach hut project started in October 2021 in the lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow. Part of the reason for developing the project was to explore sustainable beach management and to consider issues like beach biodiversity, water quality and how these issues effected the health and wellbeing of local people including swimmers, visitors and walkers.
The project aimed to use the heritage of boat hirer’s beach huts to spark new conversations about West Bay and encourage people to think about the future of the shore, a future which includes dealing with the impacts of climate change.
By talking to people working in environmental management, planning and coastal protection, it was established early in the project that vegetated shingle beaches are a rare and protected habitat. Argyll boasts 216 miles of coastline that includes other shingle beaches, however West Bay is unique as the beach is accessible.
Shingle beaches, Argyll’s temperate rainforests (which encircle parts of Dunoon), and peat bogs, are part of a rich tapestry of rare ecosystems located throughout Cowal. These are highly valuable natural assets. They cope well with rain and flooding, provide carbon sequestration opportunities, are rich in biodiversity and give local people and visitors valuable opportunities to learn from and experience nature.
When researching how a beach hut could be located on West Bay, planning guidance was clear. New structures could not disturb the shingle and permanent structures on the shore would not be granted permission due to the risks associated with rising sea levels and disturbance to the biodiversity.
Traditional skills workshops, which ran from March - June this year, helped us to explore sustainable approaches to the construction of a beach hut with local people. Over 70 people, including pupils from Dunoon Grammar School participated in these sessions. The workshops resulted in a series of components made from locally sourced timber including a shelter, hooks for swimmers towels, a seat and screens.
By exploring the shore in a series of walks and talks with different groups of people, including young people, it became evident that West Bay’s fascinating history was not widely understood or shared. It was also identified that there was low awareness about the flood risks along West Bay, which is classified as a potentially vulnerable area. There was also confusion about ownership of the shore and the role biodiversity played in flood prevention.
In response to these issues the planned exhibition along West Bay was going to share research about heritage, climate change and biodiversity. Local creative practitioners were commissioned to make work that responded to the research, and the goal was to demonstrate how small changes could create a positive community and visitor experience of West Bay.
When the digger removed the shingle and plants without notice or consultation, work on the exhibition was halted. Project partners wanted time to decide how to respond to actions that contradicted all of the research on best practice that had been collated by the project.
The beach hut project is ongoing, but it is recognised that there are strong feelings about how West Bay should be maintained for visitors and the community.
How do you think West Bay should be managed?
Let us know your thoughts on this issue. Go to the ‘talk to us’ section of the beach hut page here>
Here are links to some of the resources we found helpful:
Adaption Scotland. An overview of adaption for climate change.
Next steps: We are still planning to exhibit work on West Bay, probably in March 2023. If you are interested in finding out more then contact us at the POP shop or email email@example.com