“The Dorset and East Devon Coast is a special and beautiful place.” So began the nomination document submitted in 1999 to UNESCO to have the Jurassic Coast recognised as a World Heritage Site:
“its features are displayed within an unspoilt and accessible coastline of great beauty, which is both protected and managed for conservation, public enjoyment and education.”
The bid was led by Professor Denys Brunsden, who had recently retired as a professor of geology at Kings College London. Years later, in an interview, Professor Brunsden recalls how the nomination came about:
“There was a conference in Dawlish at which I was asked to speak. At the end of the lecture, as a throwaway remark I said that if you look at this stretch of coast, with its geological history, its beauty, its unique landforms and fossils—anywhere else in the world, this would be a World Heritage Site. The two county officers, who were at the meeting, came up afterwards and said did I really mean that? I said of course, and they said let’s set up a committee and look into it. To actually put the case together also took 10 years, and was a crowning achievement for Dorset Coast Forum and Devon County.”
UNESCO granted the Jurassic Coast the status of World Heritage Site in 2001 — the then Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, said she was “delighted” by the announcement, calling the coast as “an exceptional example of a natural geological site.”
Professor Brunsden emphasised at the time the Jurassic Coast’s educational importance: “The coast has become the most popular area for school and university field trips, possibly in Europe.” And more recently he struck the same note:
“Education is key; if people understand what they’re observing then they respect it, and from respect comes a sense of ownership, a stake in something which then has a far better chance of being looked after and conserved for the future.”
The Dorset Coast Forum, a strategic coastal partnership established in 1995, which Professor Brunsden chaired for many years, was (in its own words) “the source, catalyst and main consultative body for the development of the bid for World Heritage Site status”. And it still plays a significant role in this conservation. In their policy document ‘The Dorset Coast Strategy 2011-2021‘ they pledge to “support the coast’s World Heritage status”:
The geology and geomorphology of the Jurassic Coast is of world-wide importance, and was recognised through the successful designation of the Dorset and East Devon Coast as a World Heritage Site in 2001 Continued partnership work and management is needed in order to retain the status of the World Heritage Site.
In 2003, the Jurassic Coast Trust was formed, and in 2017, this independent charity took over the management of the Jurassic Coast WHS:
We work to protect and conserve the Jurassic Coast’s World Heritage Site status and to engage with and inspire the local communities that live and thrive within it.
You can read the latest draft of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site Partnership Plan: 2020-2025 here.
In it, the Trust pledges “to protect, conserve, present, and transmit the Dorset and East Devon Coast (Jurassic Coast) World Heritage Site to future generations”. Specifically, to:
Protect and promote the unique geology, landscapes, and flora and fauna associated with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, and do our best to ensure that any development or changes to the WHS support net environmental gain.
As for the area’s “flora and fauna”, in 2012 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee made a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (on p.9 of the draft Partnership Plan) in which they say:
“the property includes areas of European importance for their habitats and species which are an additional priority for protection and management.”
Of course, all these protection plans take into account that the Jurassic Coast is not a static, unchanging environment. For one thing, there are economic and social changes, but as the Trust says:
“the Site’s OUV [Outstanding Universal Value] must be protected by a sustainable approach to development.”
It is flagged up as one of the “critical success factors” in protecting the site’s OUV that “Developments do not cause negative impact on Site’s OUV”. Industrial pollution is obviously a concern, and the draft Partnership Plan has a section on “Protection from threats from the marine environment”, which states:
“Individual Harbours (such as Weymouth, Portland, Poole) have developed specific oil spills contingency plans, which are regularly exercised in conjunction with the MCA, contractors, and local emergency 16 responders. Other industrial sites that may pose a pollution risk due to the nature of their business have developed specific response plans, to include pollution response elements.”
Aside from economic and industrial factors, there are natural changes to consider. The Jurassic Coast Trust acknowledges that: “Natural change is ongoing and part of the evolving story of the Jurassic Coast.” Erosion is part and parcel of the coastline. The remarkable geomorphology of the region is highlighted as a feature of Dorset’s Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. According to the AONB Management Plan 2019-2024:
“In addition to the geology and fossils, the Dorset coast is renowned for its geomorphology and active erosion processes. Key sites and features include Chesil Beach, one of the world’s finest barrier beaches…”
There is also the physical and cultural ‘setting’ of the Jurassic Coast to consider.
“Guidance from UNESCO describes the need to protect an area around the World Heritage Site, generally referred to as its setting. In an applied sense, the setting of the Jurassic Coast provides the functional and experiential context for the Site’s attributes and should therefore be sensitively managed as part of the protection of OUV.”
Finally, all of these protective measures take place within a the wider political context. The UK’s environmental policies are framed by the government’s 25-year environment plan: “A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment”, which you can read here, and which states: “We value those landscapes and coastlines as goods in themselves, places of beauty which nurture and support all forms of wildlife.”
The document places considerable emphasis on “enhancing beauty”, with one of the key objectives being:
Safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage.”
As the draft WHS partnership plan says:
The general trend within the plan towards landscape scale environmental conservation is a huge opportunity for the WHS, particularly in areas such as enhancing beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment, and adapting to climate change.