Anger as erosion costs Suffolk family hundreds of acres of land

Anne Jones at her farmland in Southwold which is being lost due to coastal erosion. Picture: Daniell

Anne Jones at her farmland in Southwold which is being lost due to coastal erosion. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Coastal erosion has taken hundred of acres of land away from one farming family – leaving them angry there is not more support for people in their situation.

Anne Jones' family moved to Easton Bavents in the 1920s, when her great-grandfather bought around 400 acres of land.

In the century since, the family has lost around 200 acres of farmland and several properties to the sea. Ms Jones estimated the financial value of their losses as being more than £1 million.

"The acreage has got so small it's not really viable as a farm, but my brother still farms what's left of it as best as he can," she said.

Easton Bavents, just north of Southwold, was once a bustling village and England's most easterly point but is rapid erosion has seen a series of houses being demolished over the past 25 years.

In 1998, a row of houses stood alongside a lane leading to the cliff. The latest demolition was of three terraced homes in early 2020.

According to the occupant of one of the properties, a coastal engineer recorded that the cliff has been eroding 3m on average each year since the 1940s.

Now, just one clifftop home remains.

The row of houses pictured at Easton Bavents in 1998.

The row of houses pictured at Easton Bavents in 1998. - Credit: Mike Page

The row of houses in Easton Bavents in December 2013.

The row of houses in Easton Bavents in December 2013. - Credit: Mike Page

Easton Bavents pictured in Dec 2019. Picture: Mike Page

The row of houses in Easton Bavents pictured in December 2019. - Credit: Mike Page

Earlier this month, Sir James Bevan, head of the Environment Agency, said in a speech that “in the long term, climate change means that some of our communities – both in this country and around the world – cannot stay where they are”.

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Karen Thomas, head of Coastal Partnership East, which manages the coastline from North Norfolk to Felixstowe, welcomed the speech and said some people in the county may have to relocate "to prevent loss of homes and livelihoods".

But, she added: "Whilst it is easy to say that communities need to move away from the coast, at the moment we do not have the mechanisms or tools to support that approach."

Anne Jones also says more needs to be done to support people affected by coastal erosion.

"There's been no real political will to do anything really much about coastal erosion," she said. 

"I think flooding and river flooding has been much higher up the agenda.

"With this announcement by the Environment Agency – which is a bit of an attempt to prepare us all to face up to this – I think that might be changing.

"While it's just a few houses and a bit of farmland they seem to think it is to be acceptable to just abandon us. 

"But they're trying to prepare people that this is could happen to them, but I just feel that they've got to come up with some practical policies to actually help people if it does."

The houses at Easton Bavents in 2011.

The houses at Easton Bavents in 2011. - Credit: SUPPLIED BY ANNE JONES

Anne Jones' farmland in Southwold is being lost due to coastal erosion. Pictured is the last remaini

Anne Jones' farmland near Southwold is being lost due to coastal erosion. Pictured is the last remaining of 5 houses that used to sit in a row. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Ms Jones said one particular problem she had come across was seeking planning permission to rebuild the homes which had to be demolished.

She said she had been tried several times, over a period of around a decade, to get planning permission to build replacement properties, but each time the application was rejected.

An East Suffolk council spokesman said: “East Suffolk has among the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe and we have a strategy in place for managing flood and erosion risk for stretches of coastline over short, medium and long-term periods.

“We work in partnership with other agencies and the community to develop solutions for our coast to be resilient and adaptable to the challenges of erosion and rising sea levels. This includes supporting the owners of lost, or at risk properties.

“We have engaged, and continue to engage with the affected landowner at Easton Bavents, as we would with anyone similarly affected by loss of property due to erosion.

“Proposals for the relocation and replacement of dwellings affected by coastal erosion will be considered in line with relevant policy.”