Simple Basic Facts on Erosion

All along the East Anglian coastline and well-inland the Shoreline (mis)Management Plan (SMP) threatens the loss of the beaches, dunes, sand cliffs, the essential tourist trade infrastructure, wildlife and amenity sites, the Broads, whole villages and other vital resources. Compensation or reimbursement for such enormous loss has been consistently refused by our ‘listening’ government.

The SMP purports that by doing nothing to stop the current ‘natural’ erosion, the liberation of cliff and beach material will naturally drift to the more depleted parts of the coastline to restore them. But we don’t have a ‘natural’ situation. Offshore Aggregate Dredging is purely man-made and decidedly ‘unnatural’. The sand and shingle liberated only serves to feed the holds of the dredgers, the purses of their investors, the Crown Estate coffers and the Treasury exchequer. This theft continues to go unchallenged by anybody other than the losers themselves, who seem powerless to stop this exploitation. The SMP has totally failed to heed the far greater cause of erosion. Namely, that caused by the massive ongoing dredging of the seabed offshore for sand and gravel.

When the SMP was circulated for public consultation in 2006 there were more than 2,400 responses, of which only four were in favour, six were ‘don’t knows’ and the other 2,390 bitterly opposed. Yes, 99.6% of the responses found this SMP as totally unacceptable! The second version SMP-2 changed nothing of note and is therefore equally opposed.

Here in East Anglia, human rights, social and ethical considerations come powerfully into play, not only in terms of common justice, but also in the full awareness that the basic and main cause of the loss of our coastline is mainly due to continuing offshore aggregate dredging for vast private and government profit.

Think about it. We currently have sea-level rise of 3.2mm per annum added to by 2mm of sinkage annually. That’s an equivalent of a sea rise of 5.2mm per year. Thus one would have expected an effective sea rise of (3.2 + 2) x 35 = 182mm, i.e. 18.2 cm over the thirty-five years since 1972 when east coast dredging began in earnest. Perhaps add a mite more due to degraded weather, more northerly winds, etc.

On an average 1 in 20 mean beach slope this would have produced a sea incursion of the mean high tide mark of 18.2 cm x 20 = 3.64 metres, perhaps allowing that little more for the worsening climatic conditions of global warming. In fact the mean rate of approach has been more than twenty times this, accompanied by far deeper water offshore and normal high tide waves regularly right up to the sea wall and the seaward front of dunes at many points along much of the East Anglian coastline.

It is not that the sea has risen so much, but that the beach has been lowered by draw-downdraw down The process by which tides and wave motion remove (draw down) material from a beach and pull it out to sea. A sandy beach experiencing draw down is thus denuded of its sand. The process can be natural (i.e. winter storms) or can be artificially caused (e.g. aggregate dredging, whereby the dredging of sand and gravel offshore causes sand to be drawn down from the beach in order to replace the material which has been dredged)., so allowing the tide mark to encroach so much further inland.

And how come all this material liberated from our dunes and cliffs over the period is seen to give such low sedimental drift? All this sediment appears to have virtually disappeared over the past ten years – whereas, in reality, there should be far more sediment, not less.

Why have no post-dredging impact studies been carried out following dredging? Why are Environmental Impacts studies merely assessments based upon computerised outputs, made using inputs of speculative and assumed data rather than actual findings and data? A sand tracking study from coast to the excavated sand in the dredger’s holds would surely prove the mobility transport of the original shoreline material to this place on “no-return”.

Based upon the effect of Global Warming, marine consultants Halcrow used computer simulation to produce erosion line predictions of the sea approach covering sixty years, i.e. up to 2052. Many of these lines were crossed within five years, i.e. by 1997. In other words, twelve times the rate of loss of coast to the sea that had been predicted. This serious inaccuracy was undoubtedly because the Halcrow Report did not allow for the impact of Offshore Aggregate Dredging. When that factor is allowed to enter the equation, the apparent anomaly immediately becomes fully explainable. The reason is that the beach level has been dropped by sand and shingle stripping, so the sea covers it to a point far further inland.

No other viable explanation is possible, nor has been offered. Yet to this day Suffolk Coastal Council, Halcrow, the Environment Agency, DEFRA, The Crown Estate and BMAPA all combined, still maintain that the massive dredging operations are not responsible for our rapidly disappearing coastline, without a shred of evidence to support this claim. As a consequence, this myth is well established in the minds of many due to its continuous repetition by those who stand to gain from it.

A further question arises as to where else all this sand and shingle stripped from our beaches, dunes and sand cliffs could have gone to other than use as aggregate? Do you know of anyone seeing a mountain of sand anywhere, onshore or offshore? The seabed in the dredged area off Great Yarmouth has been dropped by between 3 and 5 metres since dredging commenced, and both Scroby and the shoreline have much diminished. These discoveries were put out as ‘unexplained events’. Perhaps we are expected to believe that sand and shingle have suddenly become soluble?

I see the loss as being mainly due to our beaches being stolen from us for massive profit, this added to further by the exploiters selling sand and shingle back to the Environment Agency for beach refurbishment to replace that already stolen. So is the burglar not selling back the goods which he stole to the victims? As a one-time magistrate, I find the aim of the SMP to be theft in the extreme, by allowing even more of our soft sand cliffs and dunes to be taken merely to feed the coffers of the exploiters at the expense of our heritage, our environment, our fishing industry, our coastal and tourist dependant economy and our amenity.

Awareness of this is most probably the main reason that almost everyone consulted (and then ignored) objected strongly to giving away even more of our shoreline when they see this as aiding and abetting the dredgers by supplying them with even more material and the treasury with their heritage.

The dredging companies announced a couple of years ago that as their reserves offshore from Great Yarmouth had become depleted, they were ceasing dredging there and moving to the South Coast and the Eastern English Channel. Yet, only a year later, they applied for a further dredging licence extension for Area 202/436 in that self same Great Yarmouth offshore area. This specific licence extension for continued dredging was intentionally kept from public awareness and open scrutiny. The Secretary of State, John Prescott, did not permit press notices to be published, allowed no consultation, and instructed that no Environment Impact Assessment was required. The application was granted without, consequently, public knowledge.

So where did all this new material that allowed for dredging to continue off Great Yarmouth suddenly appear from? Nowhere other than our eroded shoreline, it would appear! No other rational explanation is viable or possible.

Even the most simplistic approach indicates the mechanism of shoreline loss. What happens to the children’s sand-castles standing on the beach when the tide reaches them? And what results when the hole they have dug on the beach is met by the incoming sea? If a little child can be made to understand the simple effect of gravity and the movement of mobile material from the highest to the lowest point, then surely this should be obvious to those who we look to for protection us from the sea?

So let’s get these things into perspective. Global warming induced sea rise is quite bad enough, but offshore sand exploitation is even worse. To have both the effects of Global Warming and exploitation of our natural beach defences, as well as allowing the decay of what few defences remain, is surely a man-made tragedy that would, could and should be stopped in a sane and ethical society.

Pat Gowen, 24th January ’08

Please do share this

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS