The Cultural Value of Coastlines project conducts research on the Irish Sea area. The Irish Sea area has an estimated population of 15 million and a combined GDP of €500 billion. It is almost enclosed by the landmasses of Britain and Ireland, with relatively narrow ‘gateways’ at its northern and southern boundaries with the Atlantic Ocean, and combines mountainous terrain at its northern and southern coasts around Antrim, Ayrshire, Wicklow and Snowdonia, with flat, sandy and salt marsh shores around its eastern and western coasts around Solway, Morecambe, Dundalk and Dublin. These features make for a distinctive and varied ecosystem. It has been said to form a ‘natural centre’ for the regions which surround it, and is the only part of the ‘British Isles’ to border its main constituent nations – England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, as well as containing the Isle of Man. This natural location also makes it an internationally important space for the cultural and political relations between these nations and communities, and it will continue to be so post-Brexit, when it becomes a sea-border between EU and non-EU domains. How the cultural heritage of this shared sea space is evaluated and managed is a key focus of the project.


The Irish Sea area combines a wide range of population densities, from major cities such as Dublin, Liverpool, and Belfast, with Manchester and Glasgow in proximate hinterlands, to sparsely populated rural areas in Cumbria, North Wales, and Galloway. It hosts a wide diversity of human activities and uses, including energy uses such as oil exploration, wind farms, nuclear plant, and tidal power, conservation and heritage activities such as bird sanctuaries, protected wetlands, public coastal walkways, and museums, leisure and tourist uses such as seaside resorts, national parks, water sports, and yachting, industrial activities in the past and present which include mining, shipbuilding, manufacturing, armaments, and food production, and some of these uses and activities have had significant and lasting effects on the environment and ecosystem, including the reputation of being the most radioactive sea in the world. It is also a key area for economic activity, including shipping, energy, mariculture, and fishing. Historically, it has been a key zone of labour migration and capital flow and has been described as the ‘Irish Sea industrial zone’ (Burnett 2012, 75-97), as ‘the marine antechamber of Britain’, and with its arc of ports and industrial hinterlands ‘a “world” like Fernand Braudel’s Mediterranean’ (Harvie 2008, 8). The project studies the Irish Sea area in the modern period, since 1800, to focus on the period of intense industrialisation, ecological impact, and cultural representation. It has also been identified by one recent commercial survey as ‘of high importance to the future economic and environmental development of the surrounding cities and regions’, with many current and planned schemes for maritime and coastal development (Maritime Management 2013, 19). These development plans will provide many opportunities for the project to test the extent to which cultural services and values are and can be incorporated effectively and fully in ecosystem assessments, and to examine the relationship between economic development, ecological change, and cultural effects.

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The Cultural Value of Coastlines project will bring together into integrative case studies in the Irish Sea area the analysis of historical and contemporary cultural representations of the coastline and the sea, of the historical and contemporary interaction between human communities and their marine and coastal environments, and of social and cultural attitudes towards the sea and coast.

The project focuses on three case study areas in the Irish Sea. Click on the links below to find out more about each case study area:



Burnett, John A. et al, ‘Scottish Migrants in the Northern “Irish Sea Industrial Zone”, 1841-1911: Preliminary Patterns and Perspectives’, Northern History, 49.1 (March 2012), 75-97.

Harvie, Christopher, A Floating Commonwealth: Politics, Culture, and Technology on Britain’s Atlantic Coast, 1860-1930. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Maritime Management, Irish Sea Maritime Cluster: Feasibility Study, 2013.