Finally – in the midst of all this misfortune, some good news

Published:
00:00 17 April 2022



Amid the general global turmoil and depressing media coverage of the war and inflation/energy costs, it has been hard to find any good news that could lift our spirits.

Big things are happening in and around North Devon on the natural capital agenda. The Biosphere continues to get better and better. It currently offers one of the largest government green grant programs in the country. Very importantly, an agreement has just been concluded for this program to be extended until the end of the current year.

When it comes to other business-related matters, we have our fingers crossed for a successful tourist season. Early indications are positive regarding reservations. There are obvious concerns due to the return to a threshold VAT rate of 20%. This will inevitably affect prices and returns for businesses if they cannot pass on some or all of these costs.

It was therefore a huge surprise and delight to learn that North Devon has become the 12th place in the world to be selected as a World Surfing Reserve, an international designation that recognizes and celebrates the region’s exceptional quality surfing beaches and brings together local communities and experts in actions to protect them.

The region has been recognized, not only for its high quality and diversity of surf spots, but also for the unique natural beauty of its surroundings, its deeply rooted and historic surf culture, and its importance to the wider community.

North Devon joins an exclusive list of global surf reserves which includes Malibu and Santa Cruz in California, Ericeira in Portugal, the Gold Coast, Manly and Noosa in Australia, Punta de Lobos in Chile, Huanchaco in Peru, Guarda do Embau in Brazil, and Bahia de Todos Santos in Mexico.

The World Surfing Reserves (WSR) program was launched in 2009 by the California-based Save the Waves Coalition, an international non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting surfing ecosystems around the world. This pioneering model is a proven success.

To ensure there is a long-term business plan and local buy-in, each reserve establishes a local stewardship council to devise a plan of action – “Stewardship Plan” – which aims to improve the shoreline and wave conservation.

In North Devon, the group includes local organisations, such as the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere and Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), environmental groups such as Surfers Against Sewage, local community groups, surf clubs, local beach businesses and landowners all rolled into one. working towards agreed goals and shared ideals. For the first time, local surf and beach communities will have a say in the decision-making processes that affect the North Devon coast.

The group is informed by scientific research and includes coastal experts from the University of Plymouth. The aim is to protect the waves and the surfing experience from threats, such as harmful coastal development, water quality and pollution, limited shoreline access, the impacts of climate change and a host of threats. other factors that directly or indirectly impact the delicate ecosystems on which quality waves depend.

The reserve area will cover approximately 30km of coastline including Croyde, Saunton, Woolacombe and Lynmouth. It will be the first of its kind in the UK and only the second in Europe. It is also the world’s first ever cold water surfing reserve, recognizing that some of the best waves arrive during the winter season.

The importance of this project is to recognize how this fits into the overall economic picture of our region. We don’t have the latest stats, but a 2008 study estimated that surfing brings in over £50m to the area each year and supports around 1,500 jobs. Undoubtedly, when we recalculate these numbers, there will be a significant increase.

As far as jobs are concerned, these will be very varied, including direct and indirect jobs. There will be more and more opportunities for local specialist manufacturers, many of whom will use local materials. There will also be significant skills development opportunities, which will enhance some of the brilliant suppliers we already have.

Another significant benefit will be the resulting brand enhancement. It is an important part of the North Devon marketing initiative that we celebrate as many of our local, national and international assets to the widest possible audience. This initiative opens a new door for us that we can take advantage of. It is likely to appear in the promotional material of our tourism/reception/leisure service providers. He is also extremely influential in encouraging investors in the region. Financiers and investors like solid statistics, but they also need more flexible results.

Sport and recreation are part of this and invariably contribute to ensuring quality recruitment and retention of staff. Promoting a healthy work-life balance has never been more important. Well-being can be generated in many ways. There is no doubt that this initiative will influence decision-makers.

A good example of the powerful nature of initiatives like this can be seen in Exeter, where all sectors of the community, and in particular businesses, have benefited from the success of Exeter Chiefs Rugby. This helped put Exeter on the national/international stage. Just this week we were in talks with US investors who knew Exeter because of his rugby prowess. This designation provides a similar opportunity for our region.

We should congratulate everyone who helped make this happen. Many of them have dedicated their lives to their passion for the surf ecosystem. Many have also been heroic activists, such as “Surfers Against Sewage”. Much of the hard work of these groups is partially rewarded with this announcement. It is now up to the business community to take up this challenge and turn it into multiple economic opportunities.

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