How have the storms affected the coast?

The fierce storms which swept the country during the 2013/14 winter had a huge impact on our coastline, drastically accelerating coastal change. The power of nature was displayed in force at coastal places we care for such as Birling Gap, which experienced seven years’ of erosion in just one winter.

As another winter approaches, we look at how the coast we look after has been affected and the huge challenges which were faced. In some places the after-effects of this extreme weather event are still being felt with access restrictions in place and clean-up efforts still underway.

You can also see footage of Birling Gap following the storms, which explores our plans for the future at coastal places we look after.

    Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire

    We’ve been gradually adapting to the changing beach at Abereiddi since the deteriorating sea wall was removed in 2012. The pace of change sped up dramatically during the winter storms with overnight land losses of more than 5m.

    Clean-up efforts concentrated on adapting access to the shore, coast path and the remains of historic quarry worker’s cottages, making sure access was safe and user-friendly. We’re now working to create a long-term strategy to cope with coastal change at Abereiddi.

    Birling Gap, East Sussex

    The chalk cliffs at Birling Gap are eroding by about a metre each year, but instead of a gradual loss there are years when nothing happens and then, suddenly, several metres of cliff will fall at once. Seven years’ of erosion took place during the winter storms leaving parts of the visitor centre just 5m from the cliff edge.

    After dismantling the perilously positioned sun lounge and ice cream parlour we’re working with coastal change to close original rooms as we need to and open rooms at the back of the building. In the future we want to design simple new structures that can easily be taken down and re-built so we can stay ahead of the eroding cliffs.

    Mullion Harbour, Cornwall

    Mullion Harbour took a severe battering during the winter storms to the extent that the clean-up operation is still on-going and access to the harbour remains restricted. Emergency repairs to both the western and southern breakwater sea defences were also needed.

    Volunteers helped our staff collect stones in the harbour throughout summer 2014 that had been ripped from the western breakwater and the southern breakwater has been temporarily repaired. As the harbour becomes more vulnerable to storms we’re developing a sustainable vision for its future with the local community.

    Formby, Liverpool

    The beach at Formby is the fastest eroding stretch of coastline we look after. It’s predicted an average of 4m a year will be lost to the sea in the next century but during the winter storms over three years’ of erosion took place at once with 13m lost.

    After dealing with the immediate effects of the storms – reinstating access routes to the beach, erecting new dune fences and dealing with buried rubble and historic debris washed out of the dunes – we’re thinking long-term about managing the pace of change on this stretch of the Sefton Coast.

    Brownsea Island, Dorset

    Brownsea Island was ravaged by high tides and record breaking winds during the winter storms. The weather destroyed some of our beach access, washing away steps, and eroded cliffs but there are surprising positives from the seeming devastation.

    We’re working with natural processes to restore a large area of the island’s shoreline after removing failing sea defences put in place in the 1970s. The material eroded in the storms has found its way along the shoreline and sections of beach on the south shore now have more sand on them than they have for some time.

    Rhossili, Swansea

    The severe winter storms washed away the last 50m of the main path to the beach at Rhossilli Bay. The weight and inflexibility of the concrete path, combined with non-stop rain and high tides, led to its collapse.

    The impact of the weather created an opportunity to review access to the beach, which is backed by soft cliffs which will continue to erode. The new footpath is designed to be more temporary and sustainable so Rhossili is better prepared in the event of future storms.

    Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

    Murlough’s sand dunes were badly eroded by sea surges during the winter storms. A stretch more than two miles long was affected and an average of 2-3m of sand dunes was lost and as much as 10m in some places – the most ever lost in one period.

    After minor boardwalk, signage and fencing replacements our focus is now on adapting to change rather than just defending against the forces of the sea. We hope that by allowing the sand dunes to be mobile they can start to reform elsewhere.

    Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

    As Blakeney National Nature Reserve – home to colonies of little, sandwich and common terms – lies just above high tide the area and is constantly at risk from flooding. Breaches of the sea defences around the freshwater grazing marshes during the winter led to saltwater flooding of the freshwater habitat and had an impact on wildlife.

    We worked with the Environment Agency, Natural England, Norfolk County Council and others to flush out the saltwater, provide safe access to the Norfolk Coast Path national trail and protect newly created habitats for birds. We now need to adapt to increase the area’s resilience to extreme weather events.

    South Milton Sands, Devon

    The winter storms caused significant damage to the dunes at South Milton Sands along with fences, vehicle access and boardwalks. Significant repairs were needed which included creating a new boardwalk from timber recycled from old boardwalks and re-routing the vehicle track with the help of our tenant farmers.

    We’re embracing coastal change at South Milton Sands and rather than trying to protect the area we want to make it more flexible in the event of future storms and rises in sea level. We need to adapt to the faster pace of change and are working on a scheme which allows the dunes to erode and build naturally.

    Studland Beach, Dorset

    Studland Beach proved remarkably resilient in the face of the winter storms but the harsh weather exposed the inflexibility of hard structures such as cafes, slipways and parking facilities. One of the biggest challenges was a landslide in front of Studland Sea School and the toilet facilities.

    Studland’s iconic beach huts also proved vulnerable so one of the initiatives coming out of the storms has been to challenge students from the Arts University Bournemouth to design a 'future proof' beach hut able to withstand extreme weather.