Hoylake beach: can a bitter divide by bridged by compromise?

By Ed Barnes

11th Aug 2022 | Local News

A beach tour led by Joshua Styles, showing residents examples of the plants growing on Hoylake Beach. Picture: Hugh Stewart
A beach tour led by Joshua Styles, showing residents examples of the plants growing on Hoylake Beach. Picture: Hugh Stewart

A controversial consultation that has divided Hoylake has closed as the development of a new plan for the area's famous beach enters its next phase.

The consultation asked for residents' opinions on the future management of Hoylake Beach that sits within the Dee Estuary Special Area of Conservation.

It was the first stage in the development of a beach strategy in Hoylake, and an issue that has split the town between those who want the beach raked and returned to its former state and those who want it to develop into a natural habitat.

The responses will then be analysed by Wirral Council and a number of options will be drafted. A second public consultation will then be carried out before a final report is produced.

Until 2019, the beach was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate during the summer and the sand raked to clear away the dead vegetation. This policy was then stopped by Wirral Council.

Since then, grass and other plants have grown along the edge of the beach with claims that extremely rare plants have been found including sea-whorl grass, which is found in only three other places in England.

Joshua Styles, a botanist and ecologist in favour of the beach transition to a natural habitat, said he has found over 180 plant species on the site. He added: "Of those, about 30 are at risk of extinction at a regional or national level.

"It is just incredible as what has essentially happened at Hoylake is coastal transition. The transition is that in the 1970s it used to be a salt marsh. However, what's happened since then is that it's changed in sediment. It's changed from this mud to sand."

Joshua Styles

The issue has been incredibly controversial and many of those on both sides are hoping that the consultation might lead to a compromise between the two camps. Those in favour say the vegetation will protect the coastline and provide rare habitats for wildlife. Those against it say it makes the beach messy and litter is an issue.

Kelv Wright moderates the Hoylake Beach Community' Facebook group, which was set up in favour of the beach being restored to sand. He said: "I want a compromise. The beach has always been our area. We do not have a park and there are a lot of houses in Hoylake that do not have gardens so a lot of people walk along the promenade.

"We are adults so we need to sit down and let's meet halfway. I can only speak of the group that I am a member of but we want a compromise."

Why did the council have a consultation?

Councillor Liz Grey, chair of Wirral Council's Environment and Transport Committee, said that legally the council could not continue the policy of spraying glyphosate on the beach. She said the council only had permission to spot-spray on two species and could have faced an unlimited fine.

The area is a designated Special Area of Conservation which means it is protected by law. Despite her opposition to the use of glyphosate on the beach, Councillor Grey said she has always worked for a compromise on the issue. 

She said, "I have always pushed for a compromise. I am receptive to the strong feeling in that community. The area in West Kirby is well used. They will have a sandy beach. I would really like to see some sort of compromise but we should not be allowed to rake the whole beach. 

"We are one of the most naturally depleted countries in the world. It is just wrong to just rake the whole beach but I appreciate the strength of feeling shown, that maybe for the time being some length of beach is raked if possible to do that without harming anything that is endangered or vulnerable."

Councillor Grey said that the consultation is the first stage of the process to inform residents of the options going forward to manage the beach. 

She added: "Even if a compromise isn't possible then at least we find something that the majority can understand and appreciate and allow people to take ownership going forward."

What kind of compromise do people want to see at Hoylake?

While many who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service are in favour of a compromise, there is still disagreement about what that could look like

Kelv Wright said a possible compromise was that certain parts of the beach near the RNLI boat station were kept clear to allow people to walk across the sand while the rest was left to rewild.

But resident Richard Elton who describes himself as "not one or the other" when it comes to sides of the argument, said the vegetation will offer protection from sand being blown in off the beach and therefore any raking of vegetation needs to be limited. He added: "If you take away that protection for the whole length you couldn't call it a compromise."

Mr Elton shared photos of a recent saltation event – where sand was blown into Hoylake after a storm – and believes allowing dunes to develop would prevent this. He described it as "like walking through snow."

The aftermath of Storm Arwen which blew large quantities of sand into Hoylake. This is Government Road. Photo: Richard Elton.

Another local resident, Tom Hutchinson, from Cable Road, said: "There will still be an amazing expanse of clear sand beyond any vegetation under all scenarios," but said he does have "reservations about a wet saltmarsh potentially developing."

However he believes that this could be remedied by a raised walkway or better management of water drainage.

Most people who spoke to the LDRs said they wanted an end to the toxicity that has dominated the debate on both sides. Mr Elton said the negativity turned him away from sympathising with those who want the beach to be raked. Kelv Wright said social media had led to more division within the community particularly in recent weeks due to the consultation.

The first consultation closed yesterday. A date for the second has not been set.

Yellow flowers growing on Hoylake Beach. Photo: Joshua Styles.

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