Beach resorts in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk identified as being at risk by National Trust as it explores coastal erosion

Orford beach and the River Ore
- by Mike Page

Orford beach and the River Ore - by Mike Page

Urgent action is needed to prepare Britain’s coasts for the “enormous challenges” presented by nature’s unstoppable and potentially devastating forces, one of the UK’s leading environmental charities warns today.

The National Trust is calling for a “bold and imaginative” approach to coastal management, and says East Anglia is on the frontline of shoreline change - seven National Trust sites in the region have been identified by the charity as action plan “priority” locations.

Dunwich Heath and Orford Ness in Suffolk, Northey Island and Copt Hall in Essex and Brancaster, Blakeney and Horsey and Heigham Holmes in Norfolk are among a total of 80 trust sites seen by the charity as warranting special action.

The trust suggests moving away from the conventional “concrete rim” strategy that led to the “ineffective cycle of continually rebuilding hard sea defences”.

Unveiling its new coastal change report Shifting Shores – playing our part at the coast, the trust said it wanted “urgent action from Government and agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure all coastal areas are ready for the enormous challenges presented by severe storms and rising sea levels.”

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Those levels were now on average about 15cm higher than they were in 1901, increasing the impacts of storms and tidal surges such as those of the “extreme winter” of 2013-14.

“In the coming years extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, affecting people and natural habitats, putting coastal wildlife at risk,” the trust warned.

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However, 12,500 new homes and businesses had been built in coastal areas at risk of significant erosion or flooding over the last decade, despite a range of national guidance to strongly advising against such developments, it said. Only one in three coastal planning authorities in England had the most up-to-date planning policy in place to deal with rising sea levels and more frequent storms.

In Shifting Shores the trust calls for an approach to coastline management that would involve “an understanding of how nature works, moving towards adaptation and away from maintaining engineered defences, where appropriate, while being sensitive to community needs”.

This includes ending the ineffective cycle of continually rebuilding hard sea defences and instead relocating buildings, infrastructure and habitats to safe areas further inland at some at risk locations.”

The trust, which cares for 775 miles of coastline, would be putting such an approach into practice with its commitment to have plans in place for 80 of the coastal areas it cares for by 2020, it said.

Trust coastal marine adviser Phil Dyke said: “We know from our own experience how difficult taking the adaptive approach can be, despite all the good policy guidance that now exists. But action is now needed by all coastal stakeholders to manage the threats to our beautiful and diverse coast to prevent us drifting into a future where our coast is a rim of concrete.”

The Shifting Shores report highlights work already undertaken by the trust at Dunwich and Blakeney.

Earlier this year it announced its acquisition of 36 acres of coastal heathland adjacent to its existing Dunwich Heath site. “The coastline is constantly changing in this part of Suffolk and erosion means the land is being lost,” it said. “Re-named Mount Pleasant Heath, the acquisition demonstrates the trust’s long-term planning approach which recognises coastal change and aims to ensure new habitats are created and secured for the future,” it added.”

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