Bringing schoolchildren to our Kent coast

Tom Hawkins, Coastal Development Officer at Canterbury City Council, Foreshore Services

24 June 2015

School children with handheld windmills

I’ve had a strong interest in the marine environment from an early age, having lived by the sea all my life. Through Coast Explorer, it’s been a real pleasure to introduce children from inner city London and our Kent communities to our coastal landscape.

I studied Marine Biology and Ocean Science at university and have been lucky enough to have travelled all over the world working as part of different marine conservation teams, as well as surfing and kitesurfing in some amazing locations. I know that many children in the UK have never even been to the beach and are not aware of the varied leisure opportunities and career paths that the marine and coastal environment offers.

A unique experience for some of our city children.”

Joanna Donegan of Coopers School in Chislehurst

My primary role as Coastal Development Officer is to look after the 14½ miles of foreshore that Canterbury City Council is responsible for. In addition to directly managing and monitoring the coastal environment, I take part in educational initiatives, such as Coast Explorer, a partnership project with charity the P1 Marine Foundation, The Crown Estate and energy firm Vattenfall.

Over the last three years, from April through to October, Coast Explorer has seen me accompanying groups of young people from London and Kent on trips to the beach at Reculver Country Park here in Kent – inspiring the next generation’s love for our fantastic coast, improving their understanding of what we can all do to protect it and raising their awareness of career opportunities in marine conservation.

Since Coast Explorer launched in 2013, I’ve accompanied more than 1,500 participating young people on interactive sessions at Reculver, helping them to find out more about marine ecology and what’s going on in the sea and surrounding areas. On the beach, the children investigate the unique intertidal zone and consider habitats, food chains, species adaptation and the effects of climate change, such as coastal erosion and water temperatures increasing. The sessions were completely free to schools as near as Whitstable, Herne Bay, Canterbury and Thanet, and as far afield as London.

Coastal classroom

Coastal classroom

The feedback from students has been very positive, with over 80% saying they had more knowledge about marine conservation after the trip, almost 80% that they would visit Reculver again and nearly 60% expressing an interest in learning more about the subjects covered.

Different students often got something different out of the day. For instance, Lucy “loved looking for crabs and other sea animals” and Caitlin “really enjoyed looking for shark teeth”, whilst Luke commented on learning about different species of crab. A Petchey Academy student said their favourite activity was “going down onto the squelching mud and finding different species”, whilst a Westminster Academy student said: “We couldn’t even imagine before this trip how amazing the world beneath the sea really was!”

Teachers have also commented positively on the programme:

  • Joanna Donegan of Coopers School in Chislehurst: “We wanted to be a part of Coast Explorer as it was teaching the students about environmental awareness, using the coast as a classroom, a unique experience for some of our city children.”
  • Haley Vuong of Hayes Bromley School in Hayes: “It was a great day out for students, who had rarely been to a UK beach, to explore British wildlife and many of the factors affecting it. It was also great for engagement and maintaining interest in the environment.”
  • Nikki Francis Smith of The Royal Harbour School in Ramsgate: “As a teacher, I really enjoyed watching my students get actively involved in learning, outside the classroom.”

Who knows which of the students I might encounter in the future, volunteering along our coastline, pursuing a career in marine conservation or simply visiting Reculver for a day by the seaside!

Reculver Country Park is a unique place, combining undeveloped coast, historic buildings and wildlife interest. Reculver Country Park is internationally important for wildlife as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) because it is used each winter by thousands of migratory birds.

The foreshore services team at Canterbury City Council is directly responsible for water safety, education and advice, information signage and management of council licensed beach huts. This includes the management and delivery of educational/environmental initiatives with local groups, organisations and schools.

Further information

Coast Explorer 

Canterbury County Council: Foreshore services