National Trust concern on Coastal Erosion

In addition to many beaches and dunes, large stretches of the wildlife-rich Norfolk coast at Brancaster, Cley and Blakeney Freshes, suffered significant damage by the December ’14 storm and a tidal surge. Norfolk and Suffolk were far from alone in losing habitat.

Gareth Fuller's photo of the erosion at Birling Gap

The cliffs and properties at Birling Gap near Eastbourne in Sussex, new cracks have appeared in the area because of recent erosion of the cliffs during the bad winter weather.
Photo: Gareth Fuller

Sand dunes at Murlough in Northern Ireland also suffered their worst erosion in living memory, Birling Gap, part of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs in East Sussex, experienced seven years of erosion over just a few days, leaving its café and shop teetering only metres from the edge. Part of the footpath down to the golden sands of Rhossili on Gower, South Wales, voted the UK’s ‘Best Beach’ was washed away by storms, Studland Gap in Dorset too, as were others along the UK’s East Coast.

The National Trust which has in its care 742 miles of coast in the United Kingdom have been ‘fast tracked’ to take decisions, are now expressing their concern of the loss by finding how to adapt coastal areas in the months ahead, rather than years or decades as previous.

Mike Page's aerial photograph of Blakeney Marsh following the surge

Aerial view of the aftermath of the December 2013 floods. Pictured: Blakeney Marsh. Photo: Mike Page

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment director at the National Trust, has called for the government to ensure strategies to future-proof the coastline are implemented. He said “There is a natural inclination to want to defend the coastline with concrete, but our coastline is dynamic and the forces of nature that have formed it are part of its beauty. Where we can we need to give natural processes that have formed our coast the space to work, and create areas where the coastline can realign as the sea levels rise. Natural habitats such as sand-dunes and salt marshes can act as buffer zones that absorb the impact of storms and very high tides. Communities living on the coast, landowners, government agencies and local and central government all need to work together now to find solutions based around an adaptation approach to help future-proof the coastline”

Whilst Dr Pryor said that there was a clear need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid further accelerating climate change and the risk of more dramatic storm damage, he did not acknowledge the impact of shoreline loss brought about by offshore aggregate dredging. But he added “Much of the framework to make this happen is in place but government needs to act now to make sure that it’s implemented and the support is there for coastal communities to begin planning to adapt.”

The National Trust has in its care 742 miles of coast in the United Kingdom, will have adaptation strategies in place for its 70 coastal places most at risk of erosion or flooding by 2020. Some 60% of the trust’s coastal land is at risk of erosion in the 21st century, with 15% of those sites potentially losing more than 100 metres of land to the sea.

Adaptation strategies for such areas will involve looking at future-proofing buildings on the coast, where car parks should be located, creating movable access to beaches and new habitats for wildlife.

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