With the grandeur of the famous Lake District dominating the centre of the county, it is all too easy to overlook the beauty and importance of Cumbria’s coastline.

However, if Morecambe Bay Partnership and chief executive Sarah Mason have anything to do with it, more and more businesses will realise the value that its beaches, estuaries and sands bring to the area, as well as spreading the message to locals and visitors alike.

The charity, which depends entirely on grant funding and donations, runs a range of projects from Barrow to Fleetwood, incorporating everything from training volunteers to searching for the footprints of prehistoric animals to restoring habitats for endangered butterflies.

The organisation was originally set up 25 years ago as part of Cumbria County Council but separated from the local authority in 2018. It currently employs 10 people, with the number set to rise to 12 over the spring.

"We're definitely finding our feet and part of my role is to work out what the USP of Morecambe Bay Partnership is and where its future lies, because it is a young charity,” says Sarah, who took on the job of chief executive in August.

"One thing we're going to be doing over the next six to 12 months is to try and get a little bit more focus on that so that we are easier to support.”

Before joining the partnership, Sarah, who lives near Grange with husband Darren and her dog Pirate, was chief executive of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust.

Despite the isles’ distance from Cumbria, she says many of the issues are the same.

"There's a lot of the same challenges around funding and around access to the countryside, as well as sustainable and responsible tourism,” she says.

She is enjoying exploring the woodland on the Furness Peninsula after living on the relatively treeless Isles of Scilly, as well as exploring the Lake District fells.

Sarah joined the charity at a challenging time, with businesses and individuals tightening their belts in the wake of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

"A really important focus for all charities is to try and raise core funding, which is the small amount of funding that allows for a charity to exist," she says. In March 2020 to 2021, the charity had a total income of £336,844 with an expenditure of £328,576. Income included £13,926 from five Government grants.

It’s primarily been funded by grants from charitable trusts, Lottery Funds and grants from Government," says Sarah.

"There is very little from donations or corporate giving but that is something we want to change to diversify our income streams to make the charity sustainable.

“Corporate support can be quite transformational for small charities - a relatively small amount for a business might make a huge amount of difference.

"A lot of what we do is around creating training and volunteer opportunities; whether that's for nature, archaeology, cultural or natural heritage and we try to engage as many people in the communities around the bay in our projects so that they can understand, love and care for the place where they live or visit,” she says.

"We're really keen to work with businesses that want to improve their ability to value the wonderful environment of Morecambe Bay. What we're not talking about here is greenwashing. We want to have meaningful engagement with businesses where we can work together to protect and enhance and develop the wonderful cultural and natural heritage of the area.”

Some of the partnership’s current projects include Experience Morecambe Bay, which aims to develop sustainable ways to explore the coastline, while also helping more people access the countryside.

This includes encouraging walking and cycling as well as hiring out trampers - an off road mobility scooter - and electric bikes.

"We're investing in an electric bike fleet and we will be looking for businesses to partner with us to hire them out as part of an e-bike network around the bay,” says Sarah.

It is also looking to grow the network of trampers throughout the area.

"We're looking for assistance with housing the trampers or help with hiring them out," says Sarah.

"It's really a lovely thing because it gives people who used to be able to access the countryside, but maybe now can't, the ability to go back into the countryside and have a lovely time.

“At the moment we're doing a lot of background research into who these businesses are and who the audiences might be, so if anyone is interested they should definitely get in touch.”

As part of the project the partnership is also developing a website which will feature cyclist and walker-friendly businesses in the area and allow them to promote what they are doing to improve access to the countryside.

"There's lots of opportunities for businesses to get directly involved in our work and benefit from it because of that programme," says Sarah.

The charity is always on the lookout for businesses which want to work with it either as donors or through encouraging volunteering among their staff. It is also looking into ways it can partner with other charities and businesses to try and encourage visitors to give something back to the area.

"We're looking to work with other charitable organisations to see if there's some sort of programme that we can put together that will help visitors give something back. We’d really like to work with businesses on what that looks like, perhaps through visitor gifting,” says Sarah.

She says the knock-on benefit of businesses working to promote and protect the bay is that it helps preserve many of the things which attract people to come and live, work and invest in the area.

"What our projects do is to give people ownership of the bay and all of its assets, whether those are cultural or heritage or nature," she says.

"It's all a virtuous circle. The work that we do benefits everybody and everybody can be involved in it. If businesses have got an interest, then come and talk to us and we can see what we can do.”