British surfing waves are under threat from a growing number of activities around our coastline that can hamper or have long term devastating impacts on some of our most prized surfing beaches. This includes coastal developments, pollution, and restricted access.
· Waves are under threat from 3 sources: new structures and developments, pollution including sewage and litter, and restricted access.
· Multiple surf breaks around the UK are currently under extreme threat with many more subject to lesser, but escalating, degrees of threat.
· No specific laws exist in the UK to protect surf spots.
· According to the water industry itself, the number of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSOs) around the UK is around 31,000. Many of these are completely unregulated.
· In the 10 weeks since the 2012 bathing season started this year SAS have issued over 30,000 text messages warning water users about the 416 individual raw sewage discharges across just 62 beaches as part of the Sewage Alert Service.
· The UK's world-class south coast surf spot Broad Bench is off limits for up to 228 days a year.
· The amount of marine litter found on UK beaches has increased almost two-fold in the last fifteen years.
· A plastic bottle may persist in the marine environment for more than 450 years if left on a beach.
· Waves are important to coastal communities in 4 ways: economically, environmentally, culturally and socially.
· In the UK, there are 4 types of surf spots: beach, reef, point break and river mouth.
· There are over 500,000 regular surfers in the UK.
· In a 2007 Defra survey, the economic value of the surf retail sector only was estimated at £200million annually.
· At a cost of over £3million, the artificial surfing reef development at Boscombe, Dorset has been estimated to generate £3million of direct income with an additional £10million of image value. This is the valuation of a spot that currently only creates poor quality, irregular waves, highlighting the value and exceptional conditions which create the UK's best surfing waves.
· The overall turnover from the surfing industry in Cornwall (£64 million annually) was about 20% more than the sailing industry (£52 million annually), and twice as much as the golf industry (£32million annually). Results also showed that the average visiting surfer spends about 8.5% more in Cornwall than the average visitor.
Waves are a very important and necessary part of the workings of our planet, transferring the sun's energy around the globe. Surfing beaches and waves also have a deep personal value to surfers and surfing communities around the UK. However, in the UK there is currently no specific legal protection for surfing waves or any assurance that stakeholders, including surfers and surfing communities in Wales, Northern Ireland or England, will be consulted fairly on activities threatening their existence.
Other sports and activities such as walking and sailing are formally recognised, represented and consulted during many new development processes. Other areas of outstanding beauty and countryside sites are also protected. But politicians, developers and the wider public in general have very little knowledge of the value, uniqueness and finite nature of surfing waves and landscapes, swell corridors prevailing weather conditions and other conditions creating good quality waves.
We are also seeing growing evidence that the Government is showing a bias towards coastal intervention, together with a stance increasingly in favour of developers. Politicians typically give only cursory consideration to the impacts on local coastal communities, despite the fact that the waves can be central to their existence.
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is campaigning to increase public awareness and develop a greater understanding amongst policy makers that waves are a vital part of the fabric of many UK coastal communities, and it is essential that wave-centric communities can amplify their concerns so that irreversible damage is not done to our waves and surfing beaches.
Surfers Against Sewage has set out four key steps to protect the waves:
Increase public awareness
Objects such as mountains and rivers are the easiest things for people to envisage as elements that should be protected, because they are more or less fixed. The concept that a particular 'wave' needs protecting is, however, much more difficult. One reason for this is that when we refer to a 'wave', we don't really mean just one wave. We really mean the circumstances that come together to make waves break at a particular spot on the coast, in a particular way. Saying that we need to protect the 'right-hander at Thurso East' is a bit like saying we must protect the '09:50 from Paddington to Oxford'. In reality we are not protecting just one train; rather we are protecting the circumstances that allow that service to run.
Surfers become stakeholders
Surfers and other coastal water-users need an official voice within the politics of a country, in other words, become official stakeholders; this would ensure that their views are taken that much more seriously. A breakthrough has recently been made in Scotland, as a direct result of considerable lobbying by SAS. In February 2010, the Scottish Government recognised recreational water-users’ need for a voice on Regional Planning Partnerships within the Scottish Marine & Coastal Access Act. The amendment was forwarded by former Green Party Member of Scottish Parliament, Robin Harper, on behalf of Surfers Against Sewage. A seat on the regional planning partnerships gives recreational water-users the platform to voice any concerns relating to the marine environment and recreational wave resources. Achievements like these set a great precedent, which can be used as an example when justifying that water-users should become stakeholders in other countries.
Another way to protect an area containing good surfing waves is with a surfing reserve. If implemented in a similar way to a bird sanctuary or other type of nature reserve, the surfing reserve could make sure that, at least, certain 'iconic' surfing waves are protected forever. The concept was first introduced in Australia way back in 1973. Even though declaring a spot a surfing reserve in theory won't stop somebody coming along and destroying a wave if they really wanted to, the high-profile recognition of a spot will make a lot more people sit up and take notice if something negative starts to happen. In the UK, surfing reserves could be integrated into sustainable development practices managed alongside the environmental, societal and economic fabric of local communities.
Laws to protect waves
Laws are needed to specifically protect surfing waves. In the UK, developers already have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get planning permission, and this includes conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). If there were proper laws stating that surfing waves cannot be interfered with or destroyed, it would be in the developers' own interest to avoid putting their concrete in the wrong place. At the moment, no law exists in the UK to protect surf spots, but it does in one country: Peru. Peru has a history of surfing culture that goes back almost as far as Hawaii, and surfing is seen as a respectable and worthwhile pastime, unlike in many parts of Europe.
What leaders need to do:
Waves and surf spots need to be recognised as part of the UK heritage and should be afforded greater recognition and protection. Surfers Against Sewage is calling for legislation to better recognise and protect UK surfing waves and beaches. Revised criteria could work within the existing Marine & Coastal Access Act, revised Bathing Water Directive, Water Framework Directive and the Clean Neighbourhood & Environment Act or be set up as a new piece of legislation. The first step towards this is a parliamentary debate on the economic and intrinsic value of UK surfing waves and beaches, and a comprehensive understanding of the threats to waves.