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Case Study: Character of the Coast (Exhibition and Talks)

Title: Character of the Coast

Category: Landscapes for Culture (History)
AONB: North Devon AONB Partnership

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Character of our Coast – Then and now photographic exhibition and talks to demonstrate the changing landscape of the North Devon Coast AONB. A partnership project between the AONB and Beaford Arts, supported by an SDF grant, to use historic and contemporary photographs to demonstrate the impact of climate, land management and people on the AONB’s landscape.

What was done

The Beaford Archive contains images from James Ravilious, Roger Deakins and many others from the 1890’s to the 1980s. The archive has traditionally focussed on the changing rural and agricultural features of Devon. The AONB manager identified an opportunity to use historic photos of the coast to engage local people in understanding both climate change and the impact of the AONB designation on the North Devon landscape. A selection of coastal images from the archive were re-photographed today and presented to residents and visitors through a walk and 7 talks. This demonstrates the benefit of the AONB designation in conserving the special landscape but clearly demonstrates climate change, particularly coastal erosion and the impact of changing farming priorities on the landscape. The initial activity of 2 talks and 2 exhibitions has expanded considerably due to demand and interest from a wide range of audiences across the AONB. The activity has been important in increasing awareness and understanding of the AONB, as well as new partnership working with organisations and communities.


  • 1 coastal walk
  • 7 illustrated talks in locations across the AONB to reach residents, visitors and special interest groups
  • 1 Photographic Exhibition adapted for display at 4 different locations to reach a wide audience.


Working with a new partner (Beaford Arts) to reach different audiences that we want to engage with. Using a different and indirect approach to engage people with issues that they may not normally be interested in or would find difficult to understand, such as climate change, coastal erosion or land management impacts. The success of the project is clearly linked to the experience and knowledge of the AONB Projects Officer (Dave Edgcombe). This is due to his experience from fixed point photography, the Seascape Character Assessment work and over 30 years working in the area, provided in-depth knowledge of the likely locations of many photographs and the explanation and interpretation of changes. Many people love old photograpshs, particularly of places they know well and it provides an accessible starting point to a wide range of conversations and understanding.

Further information                  

Dave Edgcombe
North Devon AONB Partnership
01271 388758

Quote from the project manager:

“There have been two distinct changes over the last century, clearly reflected in the ‘then and now photos’. Whilst in many places little may have appeared to change, in some areas such as the coastal resorts, there has been significant landscape change as these settlements have literally sprung up. Natural changes due to climate effects such as storms, cliff falls and sea level rises can be clearly seen from the images in the James Ravilious Archive and the Beaford Old Archive compared with today’s images.” – Dave Edgcombe, AONB Projects Officer.

Key search words: Climate change, photographic archives, historic landscapes.

Photo credits: View over Woolacombe, date unknown. Beaford Old Archive image (c) Beaford Arts. View over Woolacombe, 2014. Image courtesy of North Devon Coast AONB (c) Dave Edgcombe. Croyde Bay from Downend, Spring 2010. Image courtesy of North Devon Coast AONB (c) Dave Edgcombe. View of Westward Ho! from the West, date unknown. Beaford Old Archive Image (c) Beaford Arts. Westward Ho! from Kipling Torrs, June 2014. Image courtesy of North Devon Coast AONB (c) Dave Edgcombe. Corn with horse drawn reap and binder, Croyde Bay, date unknown. Beaford Old Archive Image (c) Beaford Arts.