Battle against the waves goes on

MORE than 3ft of the East Anglian coast is being lost to the sea every year - and in some stretches land is disappearing at an even faster rate, it has been claimed.

MORE than 3ft of the East Anglian coast is being lost to the sea every year - and in some stretches land is disappearing at an even faster rate, it has been claimed.

In heavy storms as much as 30ft of the county's landscape can be washed away and, with global warming and sea level rise, experts predict the impact will only increase further.

Parts of Suffolk's Heritage Coast have changed dramatically over the last 100 years, with great loss of land and homes.

Properties have had to be demolished at Easton Bavents, near Southwold, before they toppled over the cliff edge, and East Lane, in Bawdsey, has changed beyond all recognition.

You may also want to watch:

At Covehithe, near Southwold, 30ft of cliffs have been lost in one single tide and the number of exposed properties being put at risk is rising with every year.

But the coastal dynamic is also having the opposite effect in Kessingland, near Lowestoft, where the beach levels are rising, adding to the evidence that the county is changing shape.

Most Read

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said that “on average” a metre of land (approximately 3.3ft) is being lost to the sea every year, but acknowledged that in some cases the loss was much greater.

The agency monitors changes closely and has to recommend whether sea defences are strengthened or nature is allowed to take its course.

“Suffolk's coastline is changing all the time and always has done. While there are locations where land is being lost there are other stretches of coast, such as at Kessingland, near Lowestoft, where beach levels are increasing,” said a spokesman.

Adam Burrows, site manager for the National Nature Reserve (NNR) at Benacre, said the coastline at Covehithe continued to erode.

“The worst year since the turn of the century was 2003 when the defences gave way at Easton Valley and there was a lot of flooding,” he said.

Mr Burrows, who has worked locally since 1999, said the public footpath along the cliff edge at Covehithe had now disappeared into the sea.

There was no immediate threat to the NNR or the homes clustered around the ruins of Covehithe Church, he said.

Mr Burrows said he was unaware that a sea defence scheme had ever been put forward for Covehithe.

Material eroded from Benacre, Covehithe and Easton replenished beaches further south.

At East Lane, Bawdsey, near Woodbridge, the Environment Agency is trying to maintain sea defences at their present level and is using large rocks to protect the crumbling coastline.

But John Fell-Clark, owner of the Napoleonic Martello tower W, described the current situation as “very dicey” and said the coastal erosion at this point had sped up dramatically over the last five years.

“The erosion on the unprotected shoreline is far more than one metre a year; hugely more. In one year we had more than 14 metres washed away,” he said.

“To say it is only one metre is nonsense; they must be averaging it out over 1,000 miles. It is patently far more than that in certain places.

“In terms of increased erosion, it has vastly increased on the unprotected south flank where bits drop off weekly.

“The erosion of the section between East Lane itself and the Martello Tower, that's very badly eroding behind the original rocks that were put in seven years ago as the original, temporary works as an emergency.

“The sea is coming in behind those rocks now and eroding the dyke behind them, which weakens our northern flank.”

The Environment Agency spokesman said officials would be returning to East Lane shortly to study the situation and see if more work needed to be done.

But he added that because any coastal protection scheme has to compete for Government funding, major projects tended to take place at coastal towns.

In Essex, erosion at the historic Naze cliffs in Walton has been a concern for many years and a fundraising campaign is underway to pay for more defences.

David Gager, chairman of the Naze Protection Society, said: “At the moment we are losing about two metres per year.

“The defences stop just before the Naze Tower which is a problem, if something isn't done it will be affected in the next few years, so the current plan is to extend the current defences along about 200 metres which will safeguard the future of the tower.”

In April 2005, 20 square metres of cliff was lost to the sea and half an acre went during a single storm in January 2001, said Mr Gager.

It is in the more rural areas where agricultural land and small coastal hamlets are at much greater risk from the sea.

People whose homes are lost because of coastal erosion receive no compensation from the Government and they are charged an average of £3,000 to have their property demolished before it becomes a danger by falling over cliffs to the beach below.

When the coastal erosion involves crumbling cliffs it is no longer the responsibility of the Environment Agency but comes under the control of the local authority.

People living close to the coast, landowners, and politicians have been calling for one organisation to have overall control but the Government has yet to announce any changes in the way our sea defences are handled.

John Gummer, president of Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR) and Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: “One of the reasons coastal erosion is so severe is that not enough is being done about it.

“We cannot deal with it unless we protect the coast, and that is why the Environment Agency is wrong.

“If we do not protect the coast it will get worse and worse. Towns and villages are threatened.

“The current policy of neglect, dressed up as managed retreat, is not acceptable.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus