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Case Study: Coastal Creatures

Title: Coastal Creatures

Category: Landscapes for People
AONB: North Devon AONB Partnership

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Coastal Creatures is a 2 year, externally funded project within the AONB providing an experienced and knowledgeable ‘education and interpretation’ officer. It was developed by the AONB Manager to broaden the engagement and reach of the AONB with communities within its boundaries, in the adjacent areas and with experts and enthusiasts from SW England. The project’s basis is the coastal wildlife of the AONB, making it accessible to residents, visitors and experts through a wide range of citizen science activities.

This project has been nominated as an illustration of outstanding partnership work between an AONB project officer (Cat Oliver), a community organisation of volunteers (Coastwise North Devon), a primary school (Combe Martin Sea School) and a community of beach care groups. Their achievement has been to reach new audiences for the AONB (schools, colleges, community groups, wildlife and marine experts) through citizen science, training, coastal experiences and beach cleans.

What was done

In the first year:

  • Recruited a full time ‘education and interpretation officer’ to deliver the Coastal Creatures project (Cat Oliver);
  • Identify, survey and record coastal species and ecology; providing specialist training for identification and recording of species;
  • delivering 2/4 Bioblitzes on the Focus beaches in the AONB (Westward Ho!, Croyde, Lee Bay and Combe Martin);
  • providing volunteering work experience for local students;
  • providing sea school training to build confidence among local school staff;
  • working with the MBA to validate and upload collected data to the NBN;
  • provide new interpretation materials and social media communications about the project and its findings;
  • support a wide range of coastal activities for residents and visitors to increase understanding of coastal species and importance of the wildlife and landscape in the AONB;
  • provide activities in partnership with other local organisations; upskill local volunteers and partner organisations.


Outputs after first year: 1 FTE officer appointed; 57 people trained in citizen science survey skills; 2 coastal Bioblitzes delivered with 640 people attending; 293 citizen science volunteer opportunities contributed; 2 student volunteer placements provided; 18 beach cleans completed involving 700 volunteer opportunities; 6 MCS beach litter surveys completed; over £10,000 value of volunteer contributions to the project; 10 schools, 1 college and 1 pre-school group taken part in activities;

Outcomes – much closer and stronger working relationship between the AONB team and other local organisations (such as community interest groups, National Trust, Country Park team, National Park, district council staff, schools and museums); building working relationships with regional organisations (Marine Biological Association, Local Nature Partnership, Education and University groups, marine groups and organisations, wildlife groups, campaign organisations (SAS, 2 Minute Beach Clean, MCS); broadening the reach and activities of the AONB to better engage with schools, community groups, special interest groups, families, visitors and residents.


  1. To use language and imagery that engage the target audience – North Devon is known for its sandy, surf beaches and its dramatic, un-spoilt coast. It is both a popular, family, beach destination and a specialist watersports and countryside access destination. Many residents and visitors do not engage with the specialist environmental terms of landscape, seascape and designations. They love the beach and its offerings of sea, sand, rocks, pools, marine creatures, birds and views. The project uses images and familiar language to reach people, with activities easily comprehensible to most people – rockpool ramble, seashore safari, beach clean, wildlife survey etc.
  2. To upskill local volunteers – providing a range of simple and specialist training in formal and informal settings so accessible to the widest range of people; giving confidence, enthusiasm, skills and knowledge to local people to provide a legacy from the project and continuation of the project’s activities after it finishes; to embed activities with local communities
  3. To provide meaningful volunteering opportunities – people like to ‘give’ which has significant benefits for their mental health. Beach cleans, beach surveys and wildlife surveys provide accessible and meaningful activities for a wide range of people – from children to adults, individuals and groups. Citizen science activities stimulate interest in the wider world, another boost to mental health and confidence but in an informal and indirect way.
  4. To use Social Media and stands at a wide range of events to reach new audiences – the Coastal Creatures theme has provided the AONB with a range of fun and engaging activities and displays that attract families, children and enthusiasts – a very different audience to recent formal consultations on special qualities and seascapes

Quote from a participant:

“The Coastal Creatures project is proving to be everything we hoped for and more. Our group Coastwise North Devon gets to work with experts through local access to marine training workshops for the first time. We are developing biological skills to develop our conservation work led by the excellent project officer Cat Oliver. We get to put our new knowledge into practice through a programme of shore survey work that she has organised for us. Team building, improved communications skills and new member recruitment are happy by-products. Local marine habitats are finally getting the attention they deserve and the North Devon coast will benefit now and in the future thanks to the AONB.” – Paula Ferris, Coastwise North Devon

Key search words: Coast Wildlife, ecology, Marine, Beach, Education, Survey skills, Citizen science

Photo credits: Learning about the strandline with Coastal Creatures officer Cat Oliver; Swimbridge School rockpooling at Croyde beach; marine litter at Cockington Mouth sorted into different types for recycling – an extreme beach clean requiring litter removal by boat from an inaccessible beach – North Devon AONB