Britain became an island as a result of the rise in sea levels by some 300 feet after the last Ice Age. This occurred as recently as some eight thousand years ago. The marine corridor thereby created became this land’s most important defining natural characteristic. The post-glacial separation of Britain from the European landmass was well understood by the late nineteenth century (Jukes Brown, 1893). Despite (or because of) the recent nature of the event and the subsequent colonization of the new island by people from Europe, to its inhabitants, constantly reminded that the last successful military invasion occurred about a thousand years ago, the coast itself gradually assumed enormous significance. As Sir Archibald Foster said in the preface to In Search of Neptune (Pye-Smith, 1990):
The significance of the coast was emphasized in the imagery employed by wartime leaders and popular singers in the 1940s as they sought to inspire the island race to resist foreign enemies. Island identity became so important to the national psyche in the late twentieth century that some English politicians even denied that we are ‘part of Europe’. As well as an actual physical defence and symbol of national independence, the coastal waters are more prosaically an important economic resource, supporting fisheries and industrial activity. Moreover, the 2700 miles of varied coastline of England and Wales offer natural and scenic qualities, which may help visitors to recover from physical or even spiritual illhealth. Coastal waters performed other economic and social functions discussed further below. Over time the wild coast was progressively tamed, developed and urbanized. Hence great pressures were imposed on the natural environment of the shoreline, which threatened to destroy its attractive qualities.