Why We Need to Protect Landmarks Like the White Cliffs of Dover

11/07/2012 18:18 BST | Updated 10/09/2012 10:12 BST

It's a rare quality for one single place to have such a standing in a nations collective memory that it comes to symbolise the character and spirit of a country. The White Cliffs of Dover have served that function for countless generations and really do encapsulate that often over used word 'iconic'. 

These white chalk cliffs, standing proud at a height greater than Big Ben, have become emblematic of what it means to be English and British too. Through the passage of history they have stood witness to major historical events that have shaped our future destiny.   

Time and time again they have provided a sense of reassurance and comfort to the people of these Islands. During the two world wars that blighted the 20th century British soldiers yearned to see the White Cliffs of Dover as the landmark that meant that they were coming home. This image would keep their spirits up through the difficult times of total war. 

white cliffs 1 national trust john miller low res

For the soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940 the White Cliffs gave them hope and meant that they could regroup to fight another day. 

And the song that has become the anthem for the Second World War, sung so memorably by Dame Vera Lynn, and captured the mood of the nation, was set along these cliffs on this world famous stretch of the Kent coastline. 

The Second World War is but one of a long line of moments when these cliffs have captured the imagination of the country, symbolising an unrelenting hope tinged with a sense of defiance and swimming against the tide. 

Our rugged and diverse coast has defined our view of ourselves and the world's view of the United Kingdom. As a seafaring island nation we have depended on the high seas for trade and travel. Millions of Britons will have set off on their holidays seeing the White Cliffs of Dover get smaller as they head towards France.

They have acted as a welcoming sight for weary travellers coming home or a sense of hope and optimism for people coming to live in this country for the first time. In many ways they have become to us what the statue of Liberty means to the US: a beacon of hope and freedom.

But the British coastline has also acted as a formidable defensive line. 

The White Cliffs of Dover have seen their fair share of key historical moments. On his first expedition to Britain in 55BC, the imperious Julius Caesar's forces were repelled by the formidable sight of 'armed forces of the enemy on all the cliffs.' 

These white wonders have also been immortalised on canvass by the great landscape painter JMW Turner and in prose by Shakespeare in King Lear when the Earl of Gloucester exclaims: "There is a cliff whose high and bending head looks fearfully in the confined deep". 

And the White Cliffs have felt the hand of history through the South Foreland Lighthouse: built to keep mariners safe from the threat of getting to close to the coast. South Foreland was the first electric lighthouse in the world and the place where Marconi did his radio testing. 

An opportunity has arisen for the National Trust to acquire a section of the White Cliffs of Dover that would mean that their future is secured for future generations to enjoy. We have a chance to make our mark on history and add our names to those that have come before us by supporting this appeal.

We need to protect places like the White Cliffs of Dover so that future generations get to experience a real closeness to the history that this stretch of coast has lived through and enjoy the wonderful natural history that can be found here.

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