How have the storms affected the coast?

As the dramatic weather continued through February, our coastline has faced some big challenges. Find out how some of our coastal places have been affected by this winter's storms.

    Abereiddi in Pembrokeshire

    The county council’s sea defences at Abereiddi were in a dangerous condition, so in 2012 a decision was made to remove them.

    This past winter’s combination of storm force winds, extreme high tides and flood water coming downstream has had major impacts on this stretch of coastline.

    We’re resurveying our part of the beach as more of the historic quarry worker cottage remains were exposed by the storms. We’re also preparing to dismantle and salvage the seaward end of the quarry worker cottages, making the material available for local conservation building projects.

    Andrew Tuddenham, manager for north Pembrokeshire, said: 'We’ve been adapting gradually to the changing beach since the sea wall was removed, but the pace of change has jumped this winter, with dramatic, overnight land losses of more than five metres.

    ‘Looking at the future of this much-loved place is all about finding practical solutions that work – keeping access open to the beach and the Blue Lagoon and reflecting the industrial heritage of the site.’

    Birling Gap in East Sussex

    The chalk cliffs at Birling Gap are eroding by about 1 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.

    Jane Cecil, general manager for the South Downs, explains how they are working with this quickly changing stretch of coast:

    'The speed of erosion at Birling Gap has been breathtaking. We’ve had about seven years of erosion on the chalk cliffs in just two months. This left the sun lounge and ice cream parlour just five metres from the cliff edge – so we quickly decided to take both bits down.

    'As sea-levels rise and storminess increase the erosion could accelerate and buildings continue to be lost. We’re working with coastal change, closing the original rooms as we need to and creating similar-sized rooms at the back of the building. In the future, we also plan to design simple new structures that can easily be taken down and re-built. That way we can stay ahead of the eroding cliff line.'

    Mullion Harbour in Cornwall

    Like many other settlements, harbours, cliffs and beaches around our coast, Mullion Cove took a severe battering during this winter's storms.

    The increasing repair and maintenance cost, and the limited funds available, required the development of a sustainable vision for Mullion Harbour, working in partnership with the community.

    So far, money continues to be spent on repair, but the plan for the future accepts that at a certain moment, when irreversible damage has been caused to one of the harbour arms, we will consolidate the breakwater back to the next strong point.

    Alastair Cameron, property manager for the Lizard, said: 'Wave after wave of storm has battered the harbour at Mullion on the Lizard.

    'We knew that the harbour would be increasingly vulnerable to storm damage at some point in the future, but the ferocity of the winter weather means that we have been making emergency repairs.'

    Following recommendations made by the study, we will continue to maintain the harbour and undertake minor repairs for the foreseeable future.

    Formby on the Sefton coast

    The ever-popular beach at Formby is the fastest eroding property in our care. It’s predicted to lose 400 metres in the next century, changing this stretch of coastline forever.

    Severe storms can take large chunks of sand dunes in one event and this can be followed by some recovery as sand blows in from the beach.

    Kate Martin, area ranger at Formby, said: 'The extreme weather has certainly had an impact at Formby, the winter storms caused three years’ worth of erosion, with this stretch of coastline losing a total of 13 metres.

    ‘We are dealing with the immediate aftermath at the moment; reinstating access routes to the beach, erecting new dune fences and dealing with the buried rubble and historic debris which has been washed out of the dunes. We are also beginning to think long-term about we are going to manage this intense change at a much loved stretch of the Sefton coast.’ 

    Brownsea Island in Dorset

    Failed sea defences that were put in place in the 70s have been removed as part of a project aimed at restoring a large area of the island’s shoreline.

    Reuben Hawkwood, Brownsea's head ranger, said: 'Our shoreline has been ravaged by the high tides and record breaking winds.

    'The weather has destroyed some of our beach access, washing out steps and eroding cliffs which are frighteningly close to paths. However this newly eroded material from the soft cliffs is now finding its way along the shoreline and allowing the beaches to build. As things settle down after the storms we hope to see sections of beach on the south shore with more sand on them than they have had for some time.'

    Rhossili and South Gower Coast

    Alan Kearsley-Evans, our coast and countryside manager for Gower, explains how the Welsh coastline has coped since this winter’s severe storms which caused the last 50 metres of the main access path to Rhossili to be washed away:

    'The long-term plan for Rhossili is to become better prepared for similar occurrences in the future. The beach is backed by a soft cliff that will continue to erode into the sea for decades to come.

    'The design for the new footpath is far more temporary and sustainable in nature. The old one was concrete and its weight and inflexibility, combined with the non-stop rain and high tides, led to its collapse.

    'Ultimately we want to make the new path as economically sustainable as we can, while maintaining good access to this hugely popular beach.'

    Murlough in Northern Ireland

    David Thompson, coast and countryside manager in Northern Ireland, considers how the area will have to adapt to change following severe erosion of its sand dunes:

    'The sand dunes have been badly eroded by the sea surges. Over a two-mile stretch along Murlough has been affected and we have lost an average of 2-3 metres of sand dunes and worse in some places, which have lost up to 10 metres. This is more than we have ever lost in one period.

    ‘We can no longer just defend the area, and must adapt to the changes. Murlough’s sand dunes are mobile systems, so as long as we allow them to be mobile they can at least start to re-colonise elsewhere.’

    Blakeney on the North Norfolk Coast

    As Blakeney National Nature Reserve lies just above high tide the area is already at risk from flooding. However, more frequent storm events and higher tides could wash away important breeding colonies of little, sandwich and common terms.

    Victoria Egan, countryside manager for the north Norfolk Coast, said: 'Recent breaches of the sea defences around the freshwater grazing marshes have led to saltwater flooding of the freshwater habitat and have had an impact on wildlife.

    'We're working closely with the Environment Agency, Natural England, Norfolk County Council and others to flush out saltwater, provide safe access to the national trail and protect newly created habitats for birds. In the future we need to adapt, and increase the site's resilience to extreme weather events.'

    South Milton Sands in South Devon

    At South Milton Sands, the team has been working with local people and stakeholders on a scheme which allows the dunes to erode and build according to natural processes.

    David Ford, general manager for South Devon, said: 'At South Milton Sands the winter storms caused significant damage to the sand dune system along with fences, the access track and boardwalks, which have been destroyed.

    'We now need to adapt long term to this faster pace of change. Working together we’re developing a plan that deals with immediate concerns such as breaching of the track as well as the future impacts of coastal change.'

    Studland Beach

    Elli MacDonald, our living with a changing coast project manager, describes how Studland beach was affected by the storms.

    'The extreme weather in February was a reminder of how vulnerable the Studland peninsula can be to high winds and storm surges.

    'With each tide, the beaches lose and gain sand but it is the hard structures – cafes, toilets, beach huts, slipways and parking facilities – which remain inflexible and at risk. We’ve already had to move the beach huts twice.

    'Students from the Arts University Bournemouth have been challenged with designing a 'future proof' beach hut. They must be in keeping with the local environment, able to withstand extreme weather and create an enjoyable beach hut experience – all without costing the earth.

    'The biggest change we have seen at Studland, as a result of the recent storms, is the landslide that happened in front of the sea school and toilet facilities.

    'Once the engineering assessment on the structure has been completed, we will know whether these facilities can continue to operate as they are. If not, they will need to be reconsidered in a new format at this location as the ongoing provision of these facilities is incredibly important to us.'