Beautiful beach carted away for building sand

A loosely worded planning decision and the increased demand for constru ction conspire against a shoreline habitat of rare species

One of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in northern England is disappearing - carted away by the lorry load to be turned into roads, shops and buildings.

The pure white sand of Druridge Bay, an eight-mile stretch of Northumberland coast lined with dunes, lagoons and nature reserves, is the victim of a 30-year-old planning decision described as a legal nonsense.

In the early 1960s, the Government overruled local planning authorities and gave the go-ahead for sand extraction at Druridge on condition that only a "small mechanical digger" was used. The permission was granted to a small firm for local building needs. But in the 1970s, the rights were bought by Northern Aggregates, a subsidiary of Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC), and the rate of extraction accelerated.

Planners blame the loose wording of the original permission, typical of the days when environmental awareness was low. Today's "small mechanical digger" can scoop up to two tons in its bucket. And the demand for building materials has grown substantially.

According to planners at Castle Morpeth Borough Council, the condition gives RMC "carte blanche to take as much sand as they like". At a rate of 40,000 tons a year, about 1.5 million tons of sand have been extracted from Druridge, causing "extreme" erosion. Beach levels have dropped, the dunes are narrowing by a metre every year and underlying clay, rock and a fossilised forest are regularly exposed as the sand thins.

Fiona Hall, chair of the Druridge Bay Campaign, a coalition of more than 70 groups opposed to the extraction, said: "This is the first unspoilt piece of coast north of Newcastle. There is a lot of feeling about this on Tyneside."

The bay is increasingly important for leisure and conservation. Parts of it are owned by the National Trust and a country park has opened. There are two sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) and four nature reserves.

The erosion also jeopardises plans by Northumberland Wildlife Trust to create new habitats for otters, marsh harriers and the now rare bittern. One of the threatened dunes, an SSSI, has a colony of scarce marsh helleborine orchids.

Ironically, RMC prides itself on its environmental record and is a corporate member of the Yorkshire, Cleveland and Durham wildlife trusts, though not of the Northumberland trust, which rejected its application. The firm argues that its contribution to erosion is "minimal". Local councils say they cannot afford the estimated £500,000 to compensate RMC for revoking the permission.

Last year, RMC agreed to cut extraction by a quarter and has said it will stop using Druridge if similar sand can be found elsewhere. An alternative site has been earmarked but will not be available for at least a year.

Many protesters claim this will be too late for Druridge as the bay is a "closed" system and cannot generate its own sand. Ian Douglas, reserves manager for the wildlife trust, said the risks were pointed out in the 1960s. "Thirty years later, we are still talking."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Packaging Operatives

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for two indivi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Estimator

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a major supplier of buil...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas