Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer Julia Jones examines Coastwise by Peter Firstbrook, which looks at the changing shapes and structures along Britain's coastline

Coastwise: understanding Britain’s shoreline
Peter Firstbrook
Fernhurst £35

Coastwise is a particularly well-structured book, appropriately so.

Peter Firstbrook’s mission is to present the 11070 miles and 6289 islands of the British archipelago as a single, diverse entity.

He begins by focussing on geology and oceanography, explaining how the effects of weather on different types of rock, chalk and clay can be read in the changing shapes of coastlines and the structures of estuaries and beaches.

Every statement is immediately illustrated with a photograph ensuring that even the geologically-challenged can begin to make the connections to their own best-known coastal areas.

The book moves on to consider ‘The Living Coast’ – not humans (yet) but what one might term the indigenous inhabitants; starting with the plankton and plants, moving through a wonderful section called ‘free drifters and bottom dwellers’, then up through both the physical environment and the food chain through molluscs and crustaceans to the more familiar inhabitants such as fish and birds.

Again there were good photographs placed beside every named species.

The fish section, in particular, held several surprises both in the variety of species observed (including blue-fin tuna) and the efficacy of some of the conservation measures.

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The third section, considering human interaction with the coast, is perhaps more predictable in its content, though again excellent in organisation.

We are used to the Shakespearean description of England as ‘this fortress built by nature for herself’ but Firstbrook’s decision to begin this section with a focus on the coast as a defence felt stimulating.

He follows it with a focus on commerce.

This could perhaps have been taken further by looking at the way Britain’s status as an island (or islands) with the mix of entrepreneurship and powerful navy historically had a global effect both on communities elsewhere and on our view of ourselves — for better or worse.

It may be a tribute to Coastwise rather than a criticism that one should start asking these questions.

In itself, it’s a thoroughly useful – and very attractive – volume, focusing on structural understanding rather than cultural observations (I’d recommend Stuart Fisher’s books there.)

The final section offers specific locations where the examples in the book can be observed first-hand.

The final section offers locations where the phenomena discussed in the book can be observed first-hand.

It would make a useful family possession and an excellent gift for interested youngsters, ready to make discoveries for themselves.

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