Britons open wallets to secure White Cliffs of Dover for nation

LONDON (Reuters) - A British charity seeking to buy land abutting the White Cliffs of Dover to secure the landscape for the nation says it has hit its target to raise one million pounds ($1.3 million) in just three weeks.

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The chalk cliffs, seen as a symbol of Britain’s identity as a proud island nation, are the first sight of the country that travelers see when they approach by ferry from nearby France.

The National Trust, a charity dedicated to preserving Britain’s heritage and areas of natural beauty for the public, launched the appeal for donations to buy 700,000 square meters of farmland immediately behind the cliffs.

As things stand, the trust owns a narrow strip of land along the dramatic clifftop, but that is at risk of shrinking over time due to erosion. The trust wanted a deeper buffer of land further back from the edge.

“We have been absolutely blown away by the public’s response to our appeal,” said Virginia Portman, the trust’s White Cliffs general manager, in a statement on Friday.

“Over 17,500 people have made donations in the last few weeks and thanks to their generosity, this wonderful landscape now belongs to the nation, forever” she said.

The trust said the stretch of land was an important habitat for flowers, butterflies and birds including the peregrine falcon and skylark.

The site also has the remnants of military defenses dating back to World War Two such as gun batteries that supported the D-Day landings and helped close the English Channel to German shipping.

The White Cliffs feature prominently in Britain’s collective memories of World War Two, in part because they were the subject of a 1942 hit by singer Vera Lynn which gave voice to many Britons’ hopes and fears about the conflict with Nazi Germany.

Lynn, who was honored on her 100th birthday in March with her image projected onto the cliffs, said she was delighted with the success of the National Trust’s appeal.

“The White Cliffs of Dover are a significant landmark and it is so encouraging to know that they will now be protected for future generations,” she said in a statement.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Angus MacSwan