How have the storms affected the coast?
As the dramatic weather continues through February, our coastline has faced some big challenges. Find out how some of our coastal places have been affected by the recent storms.
The sea defences at Abereiddi were in a dangerous condition, so in 2012 a decision was made to remove them.
We’re working in partnership to understand what the future of this beautiful and dramatic coastline looks like without the sea defences and how we will manage this area in the future.
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.
'With Easter on the horizon, we’re looking at an area-wide response to the changes we’ve seen. Looking at the future of this much-loved place is all about finding practical solutions that works – keeping access open to the beach and the blue lagoon and reflecting the industrial heritage of the site.'
The chalk cliffs at Birling Gap are home to a café, car park, hotel and a row of cottages. On average, these cliffs are eroding by about 75 centimetres 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.
As sea levels rise and storminess increases the erosion could accelerate and buildings could be lost. That is why we’ve been planning for the long-term, creating buildings in a modular way (which means they can be taken down and re-built) so that we can stay ahead of the advancing cliff line.
Jane Cecil, general manager for the South Downs, said: 'The speed of erosion at Birling Gap has been breathtaking; we’ve had about seven years of erosion in just two months. As a result of this loss of coastline we are having to act now and take down the sun lounge and ice cream parlour, safeguarding the integrity of the rest of the building. We have to think long term.'
Over the last few weeks, Cornwall has been witnessing an unprecedented number of storms, coupled with some of the highest tides for decades. Like many other settlements, harbours, cliffs and beaches around our coast, Mullion Cove has taken a severe battering.
Recent repairs, added to those undertaken since the early 1990s have cost over £1.4 million. This 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, this will be rolled back. When this happens, 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. We will need to wait until calmer seas to assess the full extent of the damage.'
The ever-popular beach at Formby is the fastest eroding property in our care and 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 – a combination of storms and high tides have seen sand dunes eroding faster than predicted.
'In December we had two years of erosion in one afternoon. We’re working hard to look at how we manage this intense change at a much loved stretch of the Sefton coast as dunes are lost and access points become more difficult to manage due to the formation of dune cliffs and sand blow.'
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. This project, involving long term monitoring and working with visitors to the island, is a key example of how we are working with natural processes rather than against them.
Reuben Hawkwood, Brownsea's head ranger, said: 'Our shoreline has been ravaged by the high tides and record breaking winds. We’ve lost several metres of coast in some areas, our cliffs are crumbling at an incredible rate and it has broken through some of our remaining sea wall below the castle, which has required a very quick fix to prevent it threatening buildings.
'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.'
Coastal change is already happening at Rhossili – the most famous beach in Wales. Erosion of the surrounding cliffs is leading to potentially dangerous landslides, as well as threatening a track leading to a popular holiday cottage.
On top of this, beach erosion is eating away at the edges of an abandoned sand covered village which dates back to medieval times.
Alan Kearsley-Evans, countryside manager for Gower, said: 'We’ve had constant rain and pretty relentless stormy weather for months. This has caused the last 50 metres of the main access path to Rhossili to be washed away.
'We’d be planning for this happening, but in 10 years’ time, not now. As this is the main way for visitors to get to the beach we now need to think about re-building a footpath that can be easily repaired and realigned to cope with the power of the sea and future erosion.'
As the dunes are eroding, large quantities of sand is already beginning to move south to north. As this continues, Murlough-like habitats could be recreated further up the coast.
The focus is not on trying to defend the area, but adapting to the changes. Murlough’s sand dunes are mobile systems, so as long as we allow them to be mobile they can at least in part be reworked and re-colonise elsewhere.
David Thompson, coast and countryside manager, said: 'The intensity and frequency of the storms, coinciding with the high tides that were predicted, has had huge consequences for the area. Normally, during a period of bad weather we look to see how our woods and parkland have coped. However, this time we are seeing the effects on our coastland, which has taken the brunt of this weather.
'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.'
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.
The area may also see changes to other valuable habitats like freshwater marsh and coastal reed bed.
We will work with the Environmental Agency, Natural England and other stakeholders to plan for the next steps, working with natural processes and allowing Blakeney Point to evolve naturally.
Victoria Egan, countryside manager for the North Norfolk Coast, said: 'Breaches of the defences have been so extensive that there has been a lot of damage to the area. We have been working closely with the Environment Agency to aid flushing of saltwater from the fresh water marsh and to aid evacuation of water should the area be inundated again. An options appraisal is being undertaken for the long term management of the area.'
We’ve been working with local people and partners to design a scheme which allows the dunes to erode and build according to natural processes. A six year project saw the failing sea defences removed and the dunes re-profiled, with the local community helping to plant the marram grass on the dunes.
South Milton Sands is now subject to ‘natural processes’, which we are monitoring and reviewing.
David Ford, general manager for South Devon, said: 'The action of the storms has been remarkable on many of our sites around the South West. At South Milton Sands damage has been done to the sand dune system along with fences and boardwalks, which have been destroyed. The sand dunes are undercut and unstable. Whilst the beach and car park are still open, the access road from South Huish has been closed.
'While we are committed to public access to the beach, coastal change is something we have to accept.
'We are now faced with an access track breached. In the short term it creates problems for local people, so we are meeting with them over whether it's sustainable in the long term.'