Shoreline showcase

17th June 2005 at 01:00
A TV series celebrating our island shores is set to become a great resource for physical and human geography lessons. David Lambert reports

Coast: A Celebration of Britain and Northern Ireland's Coastal Heritage BBC Books pound;16.99 13-part BBC2 series

As an enthusiast for finding teaching and learning possibilities in the vast resources of the media, I am looking forward with great anticipation to the forthcoming television series, Coast. The glossy book accompanying the nseries is enticing.

Recently, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the series A Map of British Poetry - using poems to show how we feel about "our land and ourselves". The themes included borders, crowds and cities, flatlands, heartlands, exile and rootlessness, rivers, mountains, and coasts and edges.

Each of these ideas has geographic resonance and meaning. The programmes may have inspired teachers to look at place through the eyes of others and in new ways, but such material would have been challenging if used directly with students, partly because of the lack of visual images.

Not so with this lavish TV series. It successfully captures the "edge" quality of the coast, in terms of both the ever changing, extraordinarily responsive physical geography, and the fascinating, sometimes quirky and often hidden human stories that help shape places on the edge.

The series also shows how the coast plays a significant part in forming a British identity that lies somewhere as a backdrop to the amazing diversity on these islands. The singular shape of the British Isles alone plays its part in this, but so do the varied functions of the coast - as line of defence, as source of pleasure, as natural resource, as dumping ground, as leaving and entry point, or even as symbol (of independence, defiance, wild nature).

This major 13-part series includes all this and much more. Perhaps its most wonderful aspect is the stunning camera work and the images used: the series is, after all, described as a "celebration".

Geography teachers can use such materials, not least to add some extra "Wow!" factor to their lessons. Geography is concerned primarily with place. If places are made through the human occupation of space, this series and book provide a good way in to discover aspects of what makes places different. Indeed, perhaps one reason why coastal studies are so prominent in school geography is because they show differences so starkly, and sometimes over a short distance. Often this is to do with the physical shape of the land (including its geology). Often it is to do with location.

Nearly always it is something to do with human activity.

I have one gripe. The book is organised into 12 coastal regions (to parallel the programmes), with maps, a gazetteer, great photographs and short informative and evocative essays. The writing by Christopher Somerville is attractive and the photography stunning. But there is a curious reluctance to acknowledge geography. It reminds me of the last time the BBC attempted a geography of the British Isles: they called it a "natural history". Coast is, in fact, a great resource for understanding Britain's coastal geography.

Dr David Lambert is chief executive of the Geographical Association

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