Our Disappearing Coastline

This original document was first written on 24th October 1995 for the North Sea Action Group’s website. Although superseded by later and more topical information, it still contains points of historical value.

(1) History

Many thousands of years ago there was no North Sea. East Anglia was joined by dense oak forests to the European mainland .The only remainders of this remaining today are the semi-petrified tree stumps appearing at Norfolk’s rapidly eroding Holme beach, and the roots of the ancient oaks that are washed up along the Norfolk coastline following dredging and severe south-westerly gales.

For many centuries now the East Anglian coastline has been slowly eroding for natural reasons. Apart from the effects of the onslaughts of major storms and surges, this has been a steady but nevertheless relentless regression. In the short term the high beach sand loss resulting from the strong onshore north winds of the winter months were normally balanced by reinstatement during the summer months when the prevailing offshore south to south west winds prevail. But now the traffic is mainly one way only.

(2) Natural Sinkage

Eurasian tectonic base plate stretching from the North American continent is causing Scotland to slowly rise from the sea, with the resulting tip effect causing south-east England to sink. Although this rate was as much as 3 millimetres per year in the past, it is now judged to be in the region of 1.5mm per annum and still reducing. Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk plus part of Lincolnshire are very slowly sinking. Man does not have the technological ability to tackle this natural threat.

(3) Global Warming & Rising Sea Levels

Since the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century earth warming has played its role in bringing about the encroachment of the sea. Ever increasing carbon dioxide emissions from power stations, industry and traffic have resulted in ever rising sea levels. Polar ice cap and glacial melting is now adding over two millimetres per year, and the melt rate is increasing. Due to Global Warming, sea expansion is giving an additional sea level rise of up to seven millimetres per annum; this too is increasing. The increase of the severity and duration of winter gales, the increasing and deepening barometric lows that accompany Global Warming serve further to escalate erosion and flooding. All of these factors add to the rise and inland progression of the North Sea. Until world governments fully recognize Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect and take action on their fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions that are the main cause, no relief is possible, and regression impossible. Yet, the rapid increase of erosion of England’s eastern seaboard evidenced over the past twenty years is far greater than can be ascribed to the above factors. There is now strong supportive correlated evidence that offshore dredging is playing the major role in the loss of our coastal fringe. This has a severe impact upon the economy due to the loss of amenity, the environmental damage, injury to the holiday industry, coastal housing, the fishing industry and the marine environment.

(4) Sea-bed Exploitation

Licensed by the Department of the Environment, eight different companies are currently operating 2,000 to 8,000 ton dredgers on our offshore sand banks. They extract the sand and gravel as a highly profitable commercial enterprise, sucking up all the base sediment and the life forms they support, returning the unprofitable fine choking silt back to the sea. Not only does this exploitation create a marine desert devoid of all sea life in the dredged area, but it also smothers a further vast area of living seabed many miles down tide. It equates to having the topsoil of one’s garden stripped, so killing the complex ecosystem and denying the likelihood of its regeneration for many future years.

(5) The Home Market

The demand for sand, shingle and gravel for the construction industry is enormous in the United Kingdom alone, amounting to 5.5 metric tonnes of aggregate per person per year. Most of this requirement now comes from the sea and well over 30% from the East Anglian coastline. Dredged sand was used to construct the huge Sizewell nuclear power stations. Much of it is used for housing and the government’s roads’ programme. 200,000 tons is required for every mile of constructed motorway.

(6) The Export Market

Most of the dredged aggregate is exported. Britain is the second largest producer of marine-dredged construction aggregates in the world. Up to 2000 some half the stone and sand taken was sold to to Holland, a huge cargo boat full going to Nieuport every day. Even back in 1955 over half of the dredged material was landed at Amsterdam and Flushing, more than at any British port. The Netherlands is a ready profitable market with a constant requirement, but Holland ‘buys British’ because it has strictly prohibited aggregate dredging within 20km of its’ own coastline for the past five years due to the shoreline erosion and the damage to fish stocks that would result were it permitted. Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport was built entirely from sand dredged off Norfolk. Much of the aggregate has been used to build up the Dutch sea defences, a considerate defensive strategy that many people of the East Anglian coastline region regard with envy.

Denmark closely regulates the operations by constant monitoring of the effects before, during and after dredging, and demands that two metres depth of untouched sand remains on the seabed. In Britain it is taken right down to the chalk and clay base. France restricts its take to 3 million tones per annum. Germany prohibits all dredging in all areas where any adverse ecological impact is thought possible. Belgium only permits the extraction beyond 10km offshore, and uses the royalties gained to fund research into the effects. There are no such conditions or restrictions in the United Kingdom.

In the past year, a small but welcome downturn has come about in the dealings of the dredging industry. Where before only 2% of used tarmac, building waste and diggings was recycled, this, probably because of the waste tax imposed on landfill, has now risen to 10%. The result is that now marginally less of the sand and shingle dredged from the sea is taken by the UK consequently giving a greater percentage exported. Thus the alleviation strategy may soon become a matter for the European Parliament, where thankfully environmental awareness is far greater than that it is Britain.

(7) Offshore Dredging Levels

The first recorded incidence of beach shoreline depletion through aggregate dredging was in the late 1800’s off the south Devon coast. Between 1897 and 1902 just 382,000 cubic metres of shingle close to the shoreline was dredged, resulting in a rapid 4 metre lowering of the entire length of the beach, erosion of the cliffs and the destruction of the village of Hallsands. Commercial ‘open cast’ seabed mining in earnest for aggregate off the East Anglian coastline first commenced in earnest in 1973 when 3 million metric tonnes of material was removed. By 1992 the annual rate had risen to 18 million tonnes. In 1994 22 million metric tonnes were taken. As over 70 – 80% of the sand extracted at the dredging site is in the form of non-required fine silt, this is washed back into the sea. Thus the true amount of base material actually excavated is four to five times that claimed. The huge annual offshore seabed area exploited off East Anglia can best be visualized as a two metre deep hole dug out over an area the size of the City of Norwich. The discarded silt smothers the seabed for at least five miles down tide, so destroying the marine seabed environment by smothering and suffocation over a far greater area.

(8) Rising Extractions

The sand and gravel to be taken is expected to be even more in the current and following years as in 1993 the exploitation of an additional 16,300,000 tons was licensed. By 1999 9,812,336 tons of this had been removed. In 1996 a total of 26.1 million metric tonnes was taken, i.e. over 130 million tonnes stripped from the sea-bed, with 16 million tonnes (80 million tonnes excavated) of this from the East Anglian offshore banks alone. It is estimated that the current level of exploitational removal could now be well over this, but no figures are to hand to confirm this. More areas have recently been licensed, the latest being between 5 and 20 kilometres offshore to Great Yarmouth. It is here that the Herring spawn in the coarse sand and shell sea-bed, yet this important environmentally sensitive area has never been designated as such. The sea bed here is being dug out for the second time as a new supply of aggregate has been redeposited in the dredging area from the coastline and from sediment washed down from the north. This material that would otherwise have provided replacement to the already denuded shoreline has thus provided a ‘further helping’. The dredgers claim that the deposits are ‘stable’. However, there is one improvement, as where in 1993 the dredgers were witnessed taking sand well within one mile of the coastline, now they are being tracked by GPS satellite navigation to ensure that they stay strictly within the areas allocated further off shore. Although the resultant erosion is delayed with more distant excavation, it still comes about in the fullness of time as the sea-bed slowly resettles to its natural level.

(9) How it’s Legitimatised

All of this exploitation is perfectly legal and licensed, needing only a “favourable government view” to commence. The planned intents of the dredging companies are advertised in the local press by The Crown Estate who is the custodian of the seabed from the shoreline out to the 12 mile limit. The Crown Estate invite objections to each scheme as to why the dredging should be refused, then always proceeds to ignore them. They next seek that government ‘favourable view’. This is invariably given despite the evidence of damage supplied by the many objectors. The Crown Estate then gives the dredging companies the go-ahead, and the operation commences.

(10) The Profits Account

The considerable profits made by the dredging companies are taxed by government. The proceeds go to the Exchequer. Between 40p and 60p for every ton removed goes to The Crown Estate. In 1995 alone The Crown Estate received £9.5 million in royalties as a result, and in 1997 a further £14.2 million. No figures are available for the past three years, but they could now be estimated at twice this amount. Thus the government and the deciding authority can be seen to be interested parties, neither of them non-partisan in the decision making process. The Crown Estate, being the landlord, planning authority, decision maker and the main recipient may thus be seen as the poacher, the law maker, the policeman, judge and jury as well as the main beneficiary. And as if that isn’t the worst scenario, no appeal against their decision is permitted, and no compensation for loss of property or living is given as in other European countries. As it is impossible to insure threatened properties, total loss, often added to by the cost of clearance of the damaged property, is passed to the property losers.

(11) The Losses Account

A dramatic increase in the rate of coastal erosion came about in 1982 soon after the rapid escalation of offshore dredging. Previously to this the sand scoured from the North Sea coastline by the winter northerly gales was re-deposited in the summer months. In 1982, for the first time ever, summer re-deposition failed. Coastlines and beaches that had shown reasonable mean stability for hundreds of years demonstrated the first signs of a consistent and steady loss. The expected sand replacement normally coming by means of the north to south sediment drift failed to materialize because the sediment supply from the offshore feeding banks was markedly reduced because the dredged material replacement need scoured the shoreline for its deficit. Further to this, it is the offshore sandbanks that stimulate offshore wave breaking in the worst weather conditions, so reducing critical wave heights to the shoreline. The eroding energy of a wave is proportional to the square of its crest height, so, a doubling of wave height due to the reduced attenuation quadruples the erosive energy. As a result of the combination of both of these processes, the sea walls, groynes and defensive dunes of many parts of the coastline have become undercut and undermined. Our beaches have become steeper, stonier, narrower and shallower as the sand is stripped from them. The denuded beaches then permit baseline attack of the soft sand cliffs and dunes, which although replacing some of the beaches with fresh supplement, brings about their destruction and a grave loss of coastline and that which it carries, housing, farmland, seaside amenity and habitat. No compensation is provided to the losers.

By 1984 a far greater and more rapid rate of erosion was evidenced that strongly correlated in sediment mobility time delay to the timing, levels and areas of offshore sediment extraction. A graph relating the beach sand depth loss and the mean high/low tide line encroachment to the timing and levels of extraction on the Winterton-on-Sea to Hemsby line of the north-east Norfolk coastline between 1972 to 1997 is incorporated with this treatise. Whilst the relationship does not indisputably prove cause and effect, a powerful correlation cannot be denied. The major decline in shrimp, fish, shellfish and crab stocks can also be related to the timing, locations and levels of offshore dredging. Herring and Shrimp catches have now reduced to less than one tenth of the levels of twelve years ago.

(12) Offshore Gas Extraction

Sea bed subsidence brought about by gas and oil extraction is yet a further factor causing erosion. The link between the sinkage of the ocean floor and coastal erosion has already long been proven on the coastline of the Waddensea. The need to prop and raise the interlinked UK offshore gas rigs off the Norfolk coastline due to base subsidence shows that it is happening here too. Thus, yet a further drop in seabed is produced, this also seeking mobile material for its refilling.

(13) Coastline Property Losses

Over the past twelve years the level of sea bottom sediment exploitation has increased enormously. Consequently major destruction of livelihood and property has resulted along the North Sea coast from Humberside down to Essex. Due to sand and dune erosion, the mean high and low tide marks have advanced by over one hundred metres along many undefended parts of the north-east Norfolk coast. At numerous points between Overstrand and Caister-on-Sea over seven metres depth of beach sand has been stripped from the popular holiday beaches, only partially replaced in the summer months.

Many beaches have become inaccessible due to the steep verticals created by dune underminement and the destruction of access paths. Beach slopes have increased, so what sand remains is washed off into the sea by the breaking waves. Stones or muddy marlMaerl Maerl is a collective term for several species of red seaweed, with hard, chalky skeletons. It is rock hard and, unlike other seaweeds, it grows as unattached rounded nodules or short, branched shapes on the seabed. Like all seaweeds, maerl needs sunlight to grow, and it only occurs to a depth of about 20m. now predominate where once there were golden sands. This causes a major loss of amenity value with a consequent loss in income to the tourist trade, which has decreased to less than one third of its former capture in the past fifteen years. South of the Humber Estuary farmhouses and farmland have been lost to the sea at a frightening rate. The coast road was taken four years ago. The Lincolnshire beaches of Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea and Skegness were stripped of sand; a serious blow for resorts dependant upon their summer influx of holidaymakers. In north Norfolk, Trimingham, Overstrand and Happisburgh have lost their coast roads. At Overstrand many valuable homes have tumbled to the sea as the cliff below them has been gnawed away. The third of a series of retreating sea defences at Happisburgh has failed, and the cliff is rapidly eroding back toward the village. The coast road and the houses beside it have been lost to the sea. No realistic defences can be planned because the money required for them is far too much for North Norfolk Council and is has been refused by central government. The once sandy 100 metre long beach at Sea Palling was reduced to a thin strip of sticky clay marl seen only at low tide, as the sea came right up to the sea wall now each high tide undermining the sea wall. But at least, following two initial beach strips brought about by minor sea surges, the highly expensive offshore rock reef scheme has worked so far, although its’ sand capture has denied the needed sedimentary sand deposits for the coastline to the south east. A 120 metres retreat of sand and dunes has resulted to the south of Sea Palling at Waxham and Winterton-on-Sea.

(14) The Threat to Coastal Wildlife

Beach destruction just south of Winterton-on-Sea has brought about the loss of the Little Tern shore colony, whilst the soft cliff nesting hole destruction at California has decimated the Sand Martins. The previous dune habitat of Nightjars and Skylarks plus much of the earlier glory of the unique flora, grasses and dune topography from the Great Winterton Valley SSSISSSI Site of special scientific interest up to Sea Palling has been destroyed. The common seal colony has been lost between Waxham and Winterton Ness. Holme, a most important nature reserve is now receding rapidly. Over 40% of the north Norfolk salt marshes have already been lost to the sea. RAMSARRAMSAR The Convention on Wetlands is of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat http://ramsar.org (Ramsar Convention or Wetlands Convention) was adopted in Ramsar, Iran in February 1971 and entered into force in December 1975. The Convention covers all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use. The Convention has three main 'pillars' of activity: + the designation of wetlands of international importance as Ramsar sites www.wetlands.org/RDB/quick.html + the promotion of the wise-use of all wetlands in the territory of each country + and international co-operation with other countries to further the wise-use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention's Contracting Parties have assumed a wide range of related obligations. As of December 2003 there were 138 Contracting Parties to the Convention http://ramsar.org/key_cp_e.htm, with 1,328 Ramsar sites covering over 111 million hectares. sites, which by a treaty the UK is deemed to protect, maintain, or if damaged, restore or replace are now part of ‘managed retreat’, e.g. an ‘allow it to go’ approach. The Cley and Salthouse bird reserve (a RAMSAR site) is to have its present shingle protection bank abandoned and a new bank created some 100m inland. This bank has been stable and effective since it was built in the mid 1600’s, but since offshore dredging commenced has depleted by over 60%. The impact to the creatures of the sea bed and the species dependent upon this has been enormous, as long evidenced by the inshore fishermen of the East Anglian coast.

(15) The Threat to Marine Life

Your author has witnessed first hand the decimation of fish stocks by inspecting the marine dredged sand landed at Great Yarmouth Quay. Sifting through just one bucket full revealed 28 immature soles, plaice, dab and turbot, 5 sand eels, 18 starfish, 10 shrimps (crangon crangon), 8 shore crabs (carcinus), 5 hermit crabs, 3 ‘swimmer’ crabs, 2 Cromer crabs (cancer) and 1 lobster plus numerous squid (sepiola), mussels, cockles, razorshells and various seabed plant species. Had a fisherman landed these he would have faced a massive fine and had his fishing gear confiscated.

Richard Docwra, Chairman of the Caister Inshore Fishermen’s Association, has witnessed first hand the damage that results to fish stocks due to the dredging. Where once he caught plaice, sole, dab, and shrimp that now dredged area is now denuded of all but a few cod. “Since the area has been dredged all the original sea life has disappeared, still not even partially recovered after five years” he finds. A further problem is that when north easterly winds arise, the consequent erosion of the foreshore results in steep vertical drops of over two metres. “At times I cannot launch my boat for days at a time” he complains. “If the drop is not too steep, then I have to spend time in creating a new slope, all of which takes time and fuel and reduces my fishing capabilities.”

David Bryant, shellfisherman of Lutton in Lincolnshire found that his catches were decimated following the dredging of his prime grounds in The Wash. He started a court case against the dredgers but the sheer cost of mounting this forced him to abandon it. He now has to travel a further fifty miles down the coast to make a living, spending far more in time and fuel costs than previous, so severely impacting his living.

Rodney and Graham Burns who fish the Suffolk coast have also found their means of earning a living far harder. They said “Before dredging commenced offshore to Orford Lighthouse some six years ago we had a prime fishing ground out there. Since then there’s been no fish there whatsoever. We cannot understand the government saying that they want to preserve fish stocks when at the same time they are allowing taking away the fishing grounds.”

Paul Lines, Secretary of the Great Yarmouth and District Fishermen’s Association tells a similar story. “Whole areas of the seabed are wiped out where they dredge. Where once we had a good fishery seven to eight miles out from the Corton Sands to the back of Scroby, the entire area has been wiped out. We now we have to go 15 miles out before we can start fishing, which is very hazardous for a thirty foot boat.” Paul explains that there is no food left nor habitat remaining for the fish in what were once the prime fishing areas. He also tells how the silt produced by the operation smothers other areas that once were productive fisheries. His constant complaints and continuing evidence of the damage is ignored.

“They do not take the findings of the fishermen into account” says Paul. “They tell us that we have no science to back up our findings and ignore us, despite the fact that we are the ones who see the evidence first hand.”

The ‘Seas at Risk’ Group headed by Roger Lankester fears that the deep holes made in the sea-bed sediment may be causing an imbalance in the sea. Nutrient release was discovered following deep bait digging over wide areas, when the sludge and phosphates deposited by untreated marine sewage outfalls were freed. The impact of dredging is far greater than this. Nutrient imbalance is known to be the main cause of algal blooms, which when toxic can bring about the shellfish bans and so do further damage to the marine environment and the fishing industry. To add to this, Britain is the only country in Europe still pumping and dumping untreated sewage and sludge to the marine environment, both major nutrient contributors, despite the demands of the North Sea Conference, MARPOL (Protocol of 1978 relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships) and EC Directives.

Pictures of seabed before and after aggregate dredging

Before dredgingAfter Dredging


These two photographs depict the sea-bed before and after marine aggregate dredging. The first shows the abundance of fish, shellfish, starfish and plants present before aggregate dredging commenced. The second following dredging operations shows the furrowed chalk base with only large stones remaining, stripped of all life forms. These pictures provide visual proof of the fishermen’s findings that the eco-system of the sea bed is destroyed by offshore dredging to leave only a marine desert.

(16) The Threat to Shellfish and Bird Life

The release of the fine sediment by the dredgers is known by shell fisherman like John Loose of Burnham and John and Geraldine Greene of Stiffkey to be one of the main causes of the serious loss of cockles, mussels, other shellfish and shrimp around the areas being dredged near The Wash. Since dredging commenced, the stocks have lowered annually. The RSPB too are concerned of the loss of Oystercatchers and other important wading birds, which species have reduced by over 70% in the past few years. Shellfish food supply loss is believed responsible for the serious decline.

(17) Coastal Homes Destruction

At Hemsby over 100 metres of beach width and dune frontage as well as seven metres beach sand depth has disappeared since offshore dredging started. Where once a quadruple dune system was stable between the sea and the great Winterton Valley SSSI, now only one third of the last remaining dune remains. The Valley floor is barely above the mean tidemark and slopes downhill to the sub-sea level Brograve levels. A winter North Sea surge may soon erode the last remaining dune to bring about marine inundation of North Martham, Potter Heigham, Hickling and salinate the entire Broads system. Eighty-nine coastal bungalow homes have been destroyed at Hemsby by the erosion of their previously stable dune base in just a half mile stretch of coastline north of Hemsby Gap. Where from 1932 to 1984 they stood 60 metres back from the highest tide mark, it is now sea. The Hemsby lifeboat shed built at Hemsby Gap well back from the ocean just seven years ago has had to be replaced by another set much further inland. The original is soon to be taken by the sea despite the earnest endeavours by the crew to save it. The lifeboat shed at Caister-on-Sea will also soon need to be abandoned. Owners receive no compensation for loss, are unable to insure, and even have to meet the costs of final demolition and removal of their destroyed properties.

(18) Beach Losses, threats … and gains!

Many unexploded mines, wartime bombs, mortar bombs and shells once covered by deep sand are now being regularly being exposed on our beaches as the covering sand has been stripped. At Waxham, the long sunken wartime landing craft defence system was uncovered by sand erosion leaving a series of sharp steel spikes. This new hazard impaled two paddlers, one swimmer and one boat in the 1996 holiday season. On the beach between Hemsby Gap and California the Coastguard almost lost his life when his Range Rover sunk up to its windows in the sand stripped soft marl. Only two years ago this stretch of sand was four metres deep and extended 100 metres. Now each high tide takes more beach sand cover and laps the soft sand cliff, eating its way relentlessly towards California village. The erosion has had its good points at California, as a cache of gold and silver coins dating from Celtic times was found in immaculate condition, having been buried deeply for many centuries. In 1998 Winterton-on-Sea had a long gentle slope to its extensive sandy beach through over one hundred metres of dune. That has been lost over the past two years, now leaving a steep six metre vertical drop to the sand denuded beach, where each high tide now brings the sea to the dune base to erode further.

(19) Coming Village Losses

The coastal bungalows, old fishermen’s cottages, shops and the local pub are doomed to disappear at California. The tarmac beach access has been taken three times already. The bungalows and houses, some newly built at adjacent Scratby are also now under threat. In the absence of any realistic long-term defence to the ongoing threat, Great Yarmouth Borough Council have placed a line of Norwegian rocks in front of the cliff face at California and Scratby in the hope of delaying the time taken for total loss. None have been provided at Newport, Hemsby or south Winterton as the budget was insufficient.

At many places, e.g. Heacham, Sea Palling and Caister-on-Sea, many hundreds of homes lay in a low area immediately behind the sea wall. The single defensive wall front and the groynes have already been damaged by undermining twice in the past ten years at Caister. More Norwegian rocks have been imported to protect that wall, but the erosion, although attenuated, still continues relentlessly. If no real preventive action by means of properly funded defences is not soon taken, and especially if nothing is done about the basic cause of the problem, the sea will break through to the Norfolk Broads and to the low lying Brograve sub-sea-level areas via the north east Norfolk coastline, threatening many lives and properties far inland and along the river valleys.

Despite this common awareness, a 1996 visit by the Minister of the Environment (who declined to meet the author) to the stricken Happisburgh area, funding for the needed defence was refused. “I have not come here with an open purse” he stated. North Norfolk Council have since placed Norwegian Rocks and material in front of the cliffs here too in a token attempt to delay the coming holocaust.

(20) North & North West Norfolk Losses

As well as the rapidly eroding coastline of the East Anglian north easterly resorts, serious damage is now occurring in north-west and north Norfolk. Both Brancaster and Holme are losing their golf courses and frontage. Protection has been refused. The valuable Holme nature reserve is seriously threatened, but no defence is forthcoming. Well over one-third of Norfolk’s salt marshes have been lost in the past seven years, many of these being RAMSAR sites that are supposed to be protected by international agreement. From Cley to Sheringham much of the sand has been stripped from the once mainly sandy beaches, leaving mainly large stones and boulders on the ever steepening and diminishing beach slope. Between Cromer and Overstrand each high tide now washes out the cliff base so causing underminement followed by the collapse of large stretches of cliff top. Here large stretches of the golf course and the coastal path have disappeared due to wave underminement bringing about the collapse of the already vegetation depleted cliff face. Now that the only means navigation is over private land means that vital footpath amenity has been lost to walkers and ramblers, so it has devalued the area for visitors. Large gulleys forming ever deepening inland ravines have appeared between Sheringham and Weybourne, some of which resemble more of a miniature Grand Canyon than the earlier stable strata. One such starts with a deep incursion extending over 100 metres inland and ending in a huge cut in the cliff face. The humus deprived farm topsoil is being steadily washed down these gullies by heavy rains, and high wave heights at high tide intensify the erosive action by funneling up the gorges produced, so further deepening and widening the already yawning chasms and working their way relentlessly through the cliff protection.

(21) Suffolk Coastal Erosion

All along the Suffolk coast are many more examples. Since the dredgers took the offshore sand between Winterton-on-Sea and Corton, the Kessingland, East Bavents and Covehithe cliff faces have been retreating by well over ten metres a year. Houses here have toppled into the sea. As well as rich farmland, soon the ancient ruin containing Covehithe Church and the small village will be lost, as no coastal defence can be afforded by the cash depleted Council. The Benacre National Nature Reserve near Southwold has over lost fifteen acres in the past two years, and Benacre Broad now forms part of the sea. Here eight metres was lost in just three days in early 1999. English Nature declared in a 2000 public order that they are ceasing to manage the 572 acre reserve with immediate effect. Nearby Walberswick, a truly delightful village, is rapidly losing it’s coastline. Some of Britain’s’ most beautiful beaches, stretches of coastline and wildlife sites are to be found in Suffolk. The loss of these would be a serious blow to the tourist economy. Corton near Lowestoft lost its sea-defences, promenade and beach access in 2001 whilst nearby Hopton-on-Sea now has its famous Potters Holiday camp coming under threat.

Corton’s crumbling sea defences

Corton Beach

The North Sea Action photograph shows the new damage at Corton, three miles south of Great Yarmouth and two miles north of Lowestoft.
Since dredging recommenced for the second time offshore to Great Yarmouth for that sand redeposited from the shoreline, further serious erosion to areas previously stable has resulted. The beach access, promenade, sea wall and cliff face have been lost, and the village is now threatened. Various suggestions including ‘managed retreat’, i.e. do nothing, are being considered by the Environment Agency.

The North Sea Action photograph shows the new damage at Corton, three miles south of Great Yarmouth and two miles north of Lowestoft.
Since dredging recommenced for the second time offshore to Great Yarmouth for that sand redeposited from the shoreline, further serious erosion to areas previously stable has resulted. The beach access, promenade, sea wall and cliff face have been lost, and the village is now threatened. Various suggestions including ‘managed retreat’, i.e. do nothing, are being considered by the Environment Agency.

(22) Essex Losses

Walton-on-the-Naze my soon be just Walton, as the Naze frontage is now being lost at a rate of over 5 metres per year. Felixstowe Pier has had its’ footings eroded by sand stripping, and soon will have to be demolished. Even as far south as Brightlingsea, the beach sand has been stripped down to the sticky and soft marl, from which beach walkers have had to be rescued when they sunk in it up to their armpits. The previously unknown Saxon groyne defences, long sunk and buried by accretion, re-appeared there in early 1996. Perhaps here we should recognize the long term effectiveness of such defences and contrast them to those modern experimental schemes now being attempted instead. Re-invention of the wheel is one thing that needs questioning, but making the wheel square and then going on to claim it to be preferentially functional is something quite different!

(23) Catch 22 x 2

Whilst the government will partially compensate councils that provide protective schemes, this is on the strict proviso that the works’ cost is less than half the value of the property defended by it. With sea walls costing £9,000 per metre (£9,000,000 per kilometre) this stipulation can rarely be met, especially as so little value is placed by government upon the environment and places of tranquillity and natural beauty. What is more, any coastal authority placing the cost of a defence scheme on their capital estimates is likely to find themselves rate-capped if the sum required exceeds that permitted by central government. Thus a double Catch-22 situation exists, which provides little hope for the future of many of the more delightful places along our coastline.

(24) Who carries the can?

So, who is responsible for coastline defence? Some forty-two different coastal authorities, the Environment Agency (once the Water Authority, then the National Rivers Authority, now the EA), the Drainage Boards, the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment all have a say in who does what, if and when. This situation permits much evasion of responsibility, as each can claim it to be the liability of another. In the case of Hemsby, the NRA claimed that coastal defence is the responsibility of Great Yarmouth Borough Council. They in turn defer responsibility to the private landowner, Geoffrey Watling of Hemsby Estates. All the bungalow owners pay their taxes to central government, their poll taxes to the local Community Charge Office, and their land rates to the landowner, yet no protection whatsoever is afforded. A further problem is that any coastal defence work attempted in any northerly area from where the sand sediment supply replacement normally drifts down is seen to arrest the supply of replenishment sand to the more southerly adjacent areas. The occupants of the area impacted have no right of redress or appeal regarding any works in the sector that denied their sedimentary drift which would otherwise have replaced some of the sand they were losing. Attempts by Lowestoft and Waveney ex-MP David Porter to bring about a coordinated and unified Coastal Defence Authority have consistently been rebuffed by the Minister of the Environment. Thus much buck-passing results, which may well be quite intentional when the profit and loss account to the Treasury is considered. But a recent move is now in progress by Tony Wright, MP for Great Yarmouth, with the full support of his local council, environmentalists and fishermen. He is attempting to have the export of the sand and shingle dredged off our shores stopped. As this now accounts for 80% of that taken, such a measure could prove highly effective. Although that would not stop the immediate effect caused by the recapture of the coastal sand by the denuded areas, at least the escalating long term damage may be reduced.

(25) Major Potential Hazards

The Gisleham Toxic waste tip lies close to the encroaching sea and the rapidly eroding cliffs at Pakefield. It is now forty metres nearer to the sea than it was seven years ago. Lowestoft consulting engineer Terry Trelawny Gower fears that the deadly cocktail of chlorpiriphos and other extremely poisonous contents, already leaching underground towards the coast, may soon meet the sea, and so require some eight miles of shoreline to be wired off to prevent public access. Lowestoft and Waveney District Councils are equally fearful and are closely monitoring the situation.

Although neighbouring beaches and cliffs either side of Sizewell are eroding rapidly, Sizewell itself has up to now been fairly stable, thanks only to the northern offshore sandbank that protects the Sizewell ‘A’ and ‘B’ nuclear power plants from erosion and wave action. The fishermen of Aldeburgh are fearful that an unthinkable plan is afoot to dredge out this bank too. An application for this operation was advertised two years ago in the local press by The Crown Estate. Rumour has it that it has been approved, but it seems impossible to confirm this. Top world Coastal Geomorphologist Professor John Pethick, who is independent of the aggregate companies and environmental organisations such as MARINET, recognising that the sand supply source to the shoreline comes from the Sizewell Bank, has similar concerns to those of the fishermen. He states “We must not dredge this bank, otherwise it will increase the erosion, the very reverse of what is required.” Perhaps it is only just that because both of these nuclear power stations were built from sea exploited sand that King Neptune’s replacement demand may bring about the terrifying consequences of the nuclear power plants underminement!

(26) Official Myopia

The North Sea Action Group, the Parish Councils of Mundesley, Sea Palling and Waxham have responded to the 1996 Halcrow Shoreline Plan consultation draft, asking that commercial offshore dredging be suspended until and unless it can be proved that the operation does not contribute to beach erosion. It would be incredibly optimistic to believe that these pleas will be upheld, as the vested interests involved are powerful and paramount .Despite formal protests to the Crown Estate, the National Rivers Authority and the Minister of the Environment by the North Sea Action Group, Norwich and Broadland Friends of the Earth, Great Yarmouth, Waveney and North Norfolk Councils, many parish councils, hundreds of East Anglia’s fishermen and environmentalists and thousands of concerned individuals, the offshore commercial dredging for sand and gravel not only continues but is continuously escalating. An application by East Coast Aggregates Ltd to dredge out a further 12.2 million cubic metres from the Docking Shoalshoal A sandbank or sandbar that makes the water shallow has recently been given the go-ahead, and yet another plan for Southampton based ARC Marine to take a further 50 million tonnes offshore to Great Yarmouth is now in progress in an area dredged out once already! A huge offshore sea bed area has already been licensed for the future exploitation where the extraction has yet to begin.

(27) Government Responses – and the lack of them!

Despite the overwhelming evidence of fish and shellfish stock loss, the environmental habitat destruction and the obviously seriously escalating erosion along so much of the East Anglian coastline correlating with offshore extraction, in response to questions in the House, Junior Environment Minister Tony Baldry stated in Parliament “We have no evidence to indicate that sand and gravel extraction is damaging natural sea defences and increasing the vulnerability of coastal areas to flooding.” This statement demonstrates either deliberate evasion of responsibility or serious myopia, as copious amounts of evidence and practical findings have been submitted to the Ministry for study.

In a 13th September 1996 letter, in response to the author’s evidence and concern, the Department of the Environment wrote: “I must emphasise that all applications for dredging are rigorously examined against the government’s policies to achieve sustainable development and ensure the protection of the coastline and fish stocks. We consider that this examination of dredging proposals is adequate and, whilst research into the protection of both the coastline and fish stocks is on-going, there is no case for a unilateral cessation of all dredging until further research has taken place.” But the ‘examination’ claimed is only to the erosive effect produced by enhanced wave action on that coastline immediately opposite to the area exploited, taking no account of the joint effect to other down drift area, nor that of changed marine channelling, nor that of the sum of dredging operations collectively. If one does not seek the evidence, one does not produce it. This may well be the intention. It thus appears that enshrined financial interests are paramount, the environment is compromised, and especially that the precautionary approach is totally lacking in their consideration and concern. Short term profits are in vogue, and long term damage and economic loss are not to be considered in the government’s singular monetary concern.

(28) Dredging and the EA/NRA

The Environment Agency, formerly the National Rivers Authority, the main body responsible for coastal protection is, also participating in the sand-dredging saga. It must be noted that the sand that they take is used for beach replenishment of some of the threatened coastal resorts and erosion depleted beaches such as Sutton-on-Sea, Mablethorpe, Skegness, Sea Palling, etc. But these resorts are depleted because of sand dredging to their north! Whilst this return of sand from the offshore banks to the shoreline is not so damaging as outright removal from the area concerned, it nevertheless can be seen as a very temporary and expensive short-term stop gap measure. At least much of the sand taken offshore and then piped onto our beaches for their replenishment and refurbishment will wash back to the more southerly offshore banks in time, or at least would were it not removed by further dredging. So, the loss is not absolute as is the case with the sand and shingle taken for inland use and export. However Professor Pethick states that such practice by the Environment Agency results is furthering erosion. He said “If we remove the sand from the offshore banks, it will result in even more wave energy onshore that will cause even more erosion, the very opposite of the required intention.” The story of the monkey that ate his own tail to provide protein with which to grow his tail longer comes to mind! The result of the effective beach defences at Sea Palling seizing what would have been the sediment drift to the south east can now be seen as erosion at Waxham, where the concrete sea wall is threatened, and at Winterton-on-Sea, which is losing it’s once stable beach and dune system at over 30 metres per year.

(29) The Race Bank Crab Ground

Despite the fury of fishermen due to the serious threat to fisheries, crab and cockle industries, the NRA planned to take sand from the Race Bank offshore to the Wash to replace the beach losses suffered at Skegness, Sutton-on-Sea and Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. Lincolnshire lost its best beaches due to lack of sediment supply replacement following intensive dredging off the Humber estuary. The refurbishing requirement was given as 1,000 tons of sand per metre of beach. In response to serious questioning at a meeting at Skegness, the NRA claimed that using the dredged sand from Felixstowe and Harwich where the shipping channels have to be continuously dredged so as to permit continued navigation, was not possible. “Only sand from the Race Bank would do” said the NRA, as “only the Race Bank sand was the right colour”! It also just happened to be that the Race Bank was the nearest licensed dredging point to the stricken beaches.

(30) Convenient Sand Sources?

Meanwhile, whilst the Felixstowe beaches are being lost and the pier is being rapidly undermined, the sand silting the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich Ports is being wasted by dumping the spoil further out to sea. Thus, it was not surprising that when the plan to replenish the lost beaches of Sea Palling and Waxham came about, the sand from the already once dredged licensed area offshore to Great Yarmouth was found to be quite suitable. That too happened to be the nearest point. One wonders if the sand from the silting ports will yet prove suitable for the rapidly eroding south Suffolk and north Essex beaches?

(31) Improving NRA/EA Concern?

Where once the NRA claimed that dredging had no effect upon erosion, the EA are now slowly beginning to recognise the facts of the situation. Where once in public meetings their spokesmen stated “…research has shown that there should be no effect…”, they later modified it to “…that there could be some effect…”. Now they are saying “…there could well be impact, but we don’t really know, as no research has been done…”. In fact the NRA aided funding in a research project by Hull University to investigate the full effects. It is rumoured among the fishermen that this report came out six years ago, but is being kept on the secret list, not to be divulged. I wonder why? Could it by chance be evidence the vested interests do not want to know?

(32) Commercial Expert Comment

What we do have are the reservations, concerns and findings expressed by a large number of experts in the field of coastal morphologymorphology The science of form. In biological terms, it is the area of knowledge which deals with the form of plants and animals. Hence coastal morphologists — (sometimes referred to as coastal geomorphologists): those espousing or dealing with coastal geomorphology, in our treatise the changes of our coastline.. In 1992 the House of Commons Environment Committee report on Coastal Planning and Protection complained “We were concerned to find that the whole area of the impact of marine aggregate extraction on the coastal zone is under-researched and based on premises years out of date.” How true!

Professor John Pethick is an independent and internationally renowned coastal geomorphologist who opposes granting licences to all applications for dredging. He is concerned about the reduction in the sea’s supply of sediment to beaches and the fact that 70% of East Anglia’s beaches are now losing sand and with it the ability to absorb wave energy. “The oscillation of millions of grains of sand can rapidly absorb the kinetic energy of even a big storm, but the mud left behind absorbs far less energy, so exposing cliffs, dunes and sea walls to ever greater battering and underminement.” He espouses “soft engineering” for all but the most indispensable parts of the coastline so allowing cliffs, which provide lots of sediment for a small amount of land loss, to erode, in the hope that this sediment will bolster dunes and beaches elsewhere that could protect the low-lying land. Indeed, this result would surely come about if only the sand so produced by tall sand-cliff falls was allowed to redeposit rather than being removed by the dredging!

In respect of the five offshore reefs now being constructed between Sea Palling and Waxham, Pethick states “My worry is that these reefs will break the back of the Norfolk coast. They will trap the sediment washing down from the north, so beyond them erosion will increase. There could be a huge catastrophe one day, with the sea invading the Norfolk Broads.” Sure enough, within a year of the placement of the offshore reefs at Sea Palling, the sea wall to the south at Waxham was undermined and the sand completely stripped from the beach. Within eighteen months 120 metres of dune disappeared at Winterton, with erosion loss even during the summer when accretion normally occurs.

Alan Brampton of the recently privatised hydraulics consulting company HR Wallingford points out that that the sea bed “.. naturally accumulates sand and fills out the bumps and hollows with material from the coast.” He freely admits that he is engaged in “..an inexact science..” and that “..sediment transport is very difficult to model.” Yet it is such modelling uniquely made by his company and paid for by the dredging companies that is used to support further dredging! Wallingford’s Brampton has so far done all the work on modelling of the impact of dredging proposals nationally, but soon it is hoped that a review of the total and cumulative effect of dredging will be undertaken by Ian Townend who works for Associated British Ports, themselves incidentally another major dredger! Tony Murray, head of Marine Estates Offshore of The Crown Estate once expressed the hope that the assumptions made by each specific area modelling would ensure that no major damage was done. Now he admits that these studies of individual dredging proposals may not be enough. “There is concern about a possible cumulative effect of lots of dredging licences. We do have research looking into that” he said. This study is the Sediment Transport Study for the Southern North Sea, which has yet to do more than review the old Wallingford data. It may be a long while before this study is complete, perhaps far too long into the future to save our coastline.

More recently in 1996 Sir William Halcrow and Partners produced their Shoreline Consultation Document. It shows grave concern. In respect of the Eccles Cart Gap to Winterton coastline, the report stated: –
“Flooding of the 6,000 low lying hectares behind the defences poses the real threat in this unit. Were the present defences to be removed, the backing dunes are no longer substantial enough to provide a natural defence and would not ‘roll back with’ but would be vulnerable to breaching, and thus leave the whole area open to inundation.”

Under ‘Further Studies and Data Requirements. 3.1.2. Offshore Banks’ it stated: “The sandbanks which lie offshore of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast are known to be of significance to shoreline development. However, whilst bank development is believed to be understood, their direct implications for specific shoreline locations are not well known and the impact of changes to these banks is not sufficiently understood. It is therefore considered essential to future shoreline management that research into the onshore-offshore interaction is carried out … whilst it is known that sediment exchange occurs between the shoreline and the offshore areas, it is not clear how, and importantly where material is transported offshore. This requires a detailed examination of nearshore processes and sediment movements.” The fishermen are well aware of this movement, but are ignored.

Para. 3.1.3 reads: “Work was undertaken during the 1970’s by the University of East Anglia to establish a sediment budget. Since that time the data available and computational ability have advanced immeasurably and a reappraisal of the transport processes and the sediment budget is warranted. This is extremely important to strategic development and should be undertaken prior to further review of the strategy.” Those responsible for the early 1970’s report still do not admit the inaccuracy of their assumptions. The North Sea Action Group, the Parish Councils of Mundesley, Sea Palling and Waxham have responded to the consultation draft, asking that commercial offshore dredging be suspended until and unless it can be proved that this activity does not contribute to beach erosion. Their plea was ignored.

(33) Postponement

Such research as suggested by the Halcrow report is now ongoing with the COIS Coastal Offshore-Inshore Sediment movement investigation project, but was said not to be available until at least 1998 when the result of this study would be published, and probably not then. This report is now said to be out, but has not been placed in the public domain. Perhaps it tells of that which the backers of dredging do not wish to be known. Meanwhile the sand and shingle exploitation not only continues, but escalates!

Even if offshore dredging were to cease today, the demand requirement of the empty dredged-out areas will continue to reclaim their losses from our shoreline for at least seven more years before the original balance equation budget is re-achieved, so shoreline erosion will continue to be evidenced. As the Prince of Wales said in his address to the North Sea Conference: “Whilst the investigation is ongoing, the patient may die.” The official findings and the required action may come far too late to prevent further and even more serious environmental damage, loss of life and livelihood.

(34) Common Sense

What is of no doubt is that the erosion experienced, evidenced and clearly seen, correlates strongly with the timing and levels of offshore dredging operations, and that no proof whatsoever exists to show otherwise. A graph of the Winterton-on-Sea to Caister shoreline made by the author over the ten year period following the commencement of offshore dredging shows a powerful correlation between the level and timing of the extraction with the loss of beach sand depth and the inland incursion of the sea. With what little research being done in the hands of the dredging companies who fund it, no ‘official’ evidence of the damaging effect is likely, although damage resulting from offshore sediment exploitation has already been conclusively prove around Gosport and the Isle of Wight.

Sadly, as with the amazing BSE saga, despite the early warnings and the findings, the government ignores the writing on the wall, requiring absolute proof of damage before they will consider intervention in any money making venture. All this despite the fact that in even monetarist terms the losses to our fishing industry, environment, coastal holiday businesses and housing by the many are far greater sums than the profits being made by the few.

All this evidence, yet even the precautionary principle remains non-actioned! Unambiguous scientific proof that the environment is being damaged is rarely available. If government had only heeded the 1950’s warnings on nuclear dangers, the 1960’s warnings on waste disposal, the 1978 concerns on BSE, the salmonella warnings, the 1980’s warnings on pesticides, the warnings on foot-and-mouth disease and now the threat given by GM Food, the resulting tragedies could have been forestalled.

Every little boy or girl who has dug a hole on the beach will know that when the sea comes in, the hole disappears, filled in by the surrounding wave swept beach sand. Only a shallow depression over a far wider area remains when the tide recedes again. So, if these little people learn this so early in life, how is it that our government authorities and most self-proclaimed ‘experts’ don’t? Could it have more to do with short-term profits and monetarist exploitation rather than the human rights and basic needs of those people who try to make an honest living along our coastline?

(35) The Danger to Life

In the great North Sea surge of 1953 over 300 people drowned in East Anglia when the sea defences failed. The responsibility fell heavily on the shoulders of the then government, who despite warnings had failed to maintain the crumbling protection. The worst hit areas were those they considered to be protected by the natural coastal dunes. These same dunes are now eroding rapidly, far more than before due to the dredging. The more severe storms that are coming about with increased global warming indicate that where the most severe North Sea surges used to occur once in fifty years, the probability of these is now once in every five years, soon to be one in three. All this is at a time when sea levels are rising fast and land masses sinking, in a climate of insufficient funding for vital necessities yet increasing exploitation for private profit.

(36) Latest Update

In late March 2001 the DETR announced that they had begun consultation on new guidance rules covering the extraction of minerals from the seabed. Their draft guidance makes proposals for a new policy framework for sustainable development of marine mineral resources in English territorial waters. The DETR say they intend to provide the dredging industry with “sufficient access to suitable to suitable long term resources to meet it’s varied markets, while ensuring that the extraction of the mineral does not have an unacceptable impact on the marine or coastal environments, or on other legitimate uses of the sea.”

It is obviously quite difficult to compromise these two contradictory objectives, which are mutually exclusive. The fishermen’s bodies have criticized the initiative, saying that they want all mineral extraction to take place under licensing conditions as tightly controlled as those on inland aggregate extraction, whilst the North Sea Action Group want to see all offshore dredging terminated unless it can be conclusively proved that no damage to the marine ecosystem or the coastline results from the practice. The guidance proposals suggest that the objectives can be met by the careful location of new dredging areas, by considering these applications in the light of an environmental impact assessment on both the coast and the marine environment, by minimizing the overall impact, by control through legally enforceable attachments to any permission given, and by requiring operators to monitor the environmental impact both during and on completion of the dredging operation. Copies of the consultation document are freely available from Alan Clayton of the DETR, telephone 020-7944 3872, Fax 020-7944 3859

The Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) proposed by the DETR (now DEFRA) are for all newly applied for licences for areas for offshore dredging. They are not demanded for those areas already licensed but yet to be dredged, which constitute an area of seabed at least as great as those currently being exploited, nor for those areas now being dredged, and certainly not those areas already dredged. Research on these would have provided good evidence of the cause and effect, but are not contemplated. However, no new licences will be given until all the many responses from the consultation process have been considered, this expected to be in late October 2001.

It is further feared that the EIAs are to be carried out by HR Wallingford who cannot be seen as neutral and non-partisan in the research and findings. HR Wallingford was privatized in 1982 under the Thatcher government so since have become far less involved with independent and empirical research and more reliant on financially viable contracts for their income. So far the EIAs have been commissioned by The Crown Estate and paid for by the dredging companies themselves, both interested parties. Wallingford’s Operations Director Dr. Stephen Huntingdon confirmed in his evidence to the House of Commons Environment Committee in 1992 when he stated that the company had “altered the balance between consultancy work and research, partly in order to maintain its income in a commercial environment.” Noting that the decision making process in granting licences were exclusively dependant on the evidence provided by the company the HoCEC stated their concern and noted that “the conclusions reached by HR Wallingford are never scrutinized for second opinion.” Their suggestion to do so was supported by MAFF and the NRA with the recommendation that such second opinions be sought, and that these should be submitted to other experts for comment. Up to now this has never come about. The evidence supplied from the practical findings of fishing bodies, environmental groups and local residents appears to be ignored in favour of the singular limited EIA report, as only one dredging application was refused of the 22 made between 1982 and 1981. No data on this astounding ‘pass rate’ has been published since then!

The limitations of the EIAs so far produced came under the scrutiny of expert marine environment and pollution consultant Tim Deere-Jones in two as yet unpublished papers commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund entitled “The Biological Impacts & Effects on the Coast of Marine Aggregate Extraction in UK Waters” and “A review of Selected Environmental Assessments & Environmental Statements Produced for Marine Aggregate Extraction Proposals for Dredging Areas 372/1, 372/2, 446/447, 452 and 454 Coastal Impact Studies”. (These sites are respectively the North Nab, the South East Nab to the waste of the Isle of Wight, Shipwash Gabbard in the southern North Sea, the Lowestoft Extension and the Cut Line Inner Shipwash also both in the southern North Sea).

As regards the impact upon fish stocks and the environment in general, inspection showed the methodology used, the alternatives outlined, the description of the impact, the environment and mitigation measures, the effects and the general approach of the surveys to be inadequate. The description of the benthic meio and micro-faune, species, algae and bacteria upon which the environment is dependent was non-existent. The sampling, analysis and description of benthic egg, larval and juvenile was weak and that of the site specific ecology ‘remarkably inadequate’. No conservation status has been attached to any UK benthic gravel sites. The post dredging impacts on them were only measured over 5 days of dredging activity, when in fact the dredging took place over 10 or 20 years periods. No consideration was given to the likelihood of the release of anaerobic or toxic materials as a result of disturbance and sand cover stripping that could give rise to anoxic conditions.

In respect of the impact of dredging on coastal erosion, despite the fact that seabed sediment transport takes place even at depths of over 100 metres, the investigation into such movement was found to be very limited and under-researched, using limited assumed data in computer based models and not that well known by the local fishermen by their net shift findings. No long term effects, no cumulative effect and no wide ranging impact studies took place at those down tide areas likely to be deprived of their beach nourishment as a result of the offshore-inshore sand and gravel movement. No wave climate measurements took place over the long term period required to give data on the effect of dredging on wave heights and directions producing erosion, nor on major water (hence sediment) movement in conditions such as winter and storm periods.

A further point made was the lack of information on viable alternative aggregate sources. That recycling of building waste could often prove a good alternative, that the dredging made to keep the ports open and navigable were wastefully dumped at sea instead of used as a source seemed non-considered in the EIAs studied.

The findings in Tim Deere-Jones over 100 pages of findings and recommendations were many and comprehensive, and cannot be given justice in this précis. But let it be said that the findings of the many fishing and environmental investigators appeared borne out, and that those of the EIAs were found lacking in content and conviction. Yet the evidence of those supporting the continuity of offshore dredging have frequently been claimed by the authorities of having ‘no scientific basis’!

In addition to the above, to complement current DETR and MAFF research projects, the results of which are expected by December 2001, Marine Ecological Surveys Limited will carry out research into the impact of dredging on bio-community structures, the extent of the impact beyond the immediate boundaries of the area dredged and the rate of recovery of the eco-system bio-communities both in and around the dredged areas. Whilst this goes some way to meet the concerns of the NSAG, it needs to be pointed out that the £80,000 project has been commissioned by the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association, and thus may not be perceived to be the fully independent research required.


Whilst we rightfully blame over fishing for the decline in our fish stocks and global warming for the rise in sea level and hence the serious threat to our coastal areas, these would seem to pale in it’s significance due to the more direct and damaging threat brought about by the removal of our offshore sand and gravel stocks. The sedimental drift and the onshore-offshore balance of our beaches, dunes and sand cliffs is being seriously impacted by continuing and escalating exploitation. It is considered unlikely that any cessation or curtailment of such highly profitable activity will come about, as powerful vested interests exist throughout all stages of the operation.

Author: Patrick J.A. Gowen JP MIST Head of the North Sea Action Group (non-compensated loser of his coastal bungalow in March 1988 following offshore dredging, where prior to then the beach and dunes were accrecating, unable to insure his present property now threatened). V4.2. First written 24th October 1995, updated regularly with new incoming information, with this latest V5.1 17th September 2001


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