New warning on coastal erosion

By David GreenEAST Anglia's coastline is getting steeper, undermining coastal defences, increasing erosion and destroying wildlife habitat, a new report has warned.

By David Green

EAST Anglia's coastline is getting steeper, undermining coastal defences, increasing erosion and destroying wildlife habitat, a new report has warned.

Dr Nigel Pontee said there was evidence of a steepening process along various parts of the region's coast, making the impact of waves more damaging.

He claimed man-made structures, such as sea walls and promenades, were thought to be the most likely cause of the steepening and warned holding these structures in their current positions might be unsustainable in the long term.

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“A steeper beach may not have any serious implications in regions where there are rocky coastlines, but this is not the case in East Anglia where much of the coast is low-lying or protected by dunes and sandy cliffs,” said Dr Pontee.

In a report published yesterday in the Royal Geographical Society's academic publication, The Geographical Journal, he suggested the coastline of England and Wales had become steeper and the process was undermining coastal defences, increasing erosion, making beach bathing more dangerous and destroying wildlife habitat.

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His research involved a comparative study of the distances between high water and low water marks today and over history.

It concluded the distances were becoming shorter and beaches in some areas were getting steeper, squeezed between higher tides and sea walls.

Dr Pontee, a senior coastal scientist working for Halcrow Group, said yesterday that hard decisions would have to be taken in some areas over whether sea defences were sustainable or would have to be moved back.

In natural conditions, unrestrained beaches and mudflats tended to move inland under rising sea levels and the steepening process was avoided.

“As beach widths decrease and water depths increase in front of structures, they will no longer be able to offer the same levels of protection without further investment,” he warned.

The narrowing of beaches also had serious implications for conservation of important natural habitats, such as mudflats and saltmarshes, especially in East Anglia.

“In many areas such habitats are decreasing as the low water mark advances landward, but the high water mark remains fixed because of sea walls,” said Dr Pontee.

“These results have considerable implications for deciding on future coastal management options around not only the UK, but also, potentially, the rest of the world.

“If we are not to spend increasingly large amounts of money on sea defences, we need to allow more room for coastlines to function as nature intended them to.”

Pat Gowen, head of the North Sea Action Group, based in East Anglia, believes offshore dredging was aggravating coastal erosion in this region, but Dr Pontee said the evidence for that was “inconclusive”.

Chris Durdin, East Anglia spokesman for the RSPB, said east coast estuaries were particularly vulnerable to the coast being “squeezed”.

“I think managed realignment of coastlines is being accepted as the practical and sensible way forward in some areas, although there is a need elsewhere to protect human communities and freshwater habitats as long as possible,” he added.

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