How the 2013/14 winter storms affected the coast
The fierce storms which swept across the UK during the winter of 2013/14 had a huge impact on the coastline we look after, drastically accelerating coastal change through a combination of the storms and high tides.
The power of nature was displayed along the coast from Birling Gap in East Sussex to Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula. A year on from the storms, we look at how the coast we manage has been affected and the huge challenges which were faced.
You can also see footage of Birling Gap following the storms, which explores our plans for the future at coastal places we look after.
‘We’ve been adapting to the changing beach since the deteriorating sea wall was removed in 2012,’ said Andrew Tuddenham, our manager for North Pembrokeshire. ‘The pace of change sped up dramatically during the winter storms in 2013/2014 with overnight land losses of more than 5m.
‘At the time, clean-up efforts concentrated on adapting access to the shore, coast path and the remains of historic quarry workers’ cottages, making sure access was safe and user-friendly.
‘We’re now working closely with the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park Association and Pembrokeshire County Council, as well as a neighbouring land owner, to build a long-term strategy that ensures we’re set-up to cope with coastal change at Abereiddi.’
The chalk cliffs at Birling Gap erode by about two-thirds of a metre each year,’ said Adrian Harrison, our head ranger at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. ‘But during the 2013/2014 winter storms seven years' worth of erosion took place in just a couple of months.
‘As a result, the sun lounge and ice cream parlour, which stood perilously close to the fast-approaching cliff edge, were taken down. Following a large clean-up operation, the new visitor centre and learning centre opened in April 2014.
‘Now, a public consultation is getting underway to find out what the local community wants to see at Birling Gap. This is the first step towards designing a simple structure that can easily be taken down and re-built as an option for us to adapt to the eroding coastline.
‘An archaeological project at the Seven Sisters has started with the help of many volunteers to record the archaeology before it’s lost to coastal erosion, helping to give us a better understanding of this place’s history.’
Brownsea Island was ravaged by high tides and record-breaking winds during the 2013/14 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.
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 2013/14 winter storms over three years' worth 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.
The severe 2013/2014 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 gave us an opportunity to review how people get to the beach, which is backed by soft cliffs that will continue to erode,’ said Alan Kearsley-Evans, our coast and countryside manager for Gower and Ceredigion. ‘A new footpath was put in place by the local rights of way team ahead of the busy summer period in 2014.
‘As well as creating better access by replacing the previous steps with a slope, the new footpath has been designed to be more mobile and is cut into the side of the slope. If it becomes damaged again, it could be removed, stored and then rebuilt with relative ease.’
During the 2013/14 winter storms two-thirds of the dune system at South Milton Sands was washed away and fences, vehicle access and boardwalks needed a substantial amount of repair work.
‘We’ve been working with the local community and our tenant farmers to rebuild the important access track further inland,’ said Emma Reece, our ranger for the South Devon coast and countryside. ‘The other rangers at South Milton Sands and I carried out repair work to reinstate the boardwalks and fix the fencing, while contractors were brought in to repair the slipway and South West Coast Path which runs along the back of the beach.
‘Sand lost on the dunes has gradually been replaced naturally. Several metres of sand have returned and the dunes are now greening up with vegetation and have settled into a more natural slope rather than the cliff face that was left after the storms.
‘Now a schedule of works to improve the appearance and visitor experience at the site is underway. Looking to the future, a 10-year management plan is being developed for South Milton Sands working closely with the local community.’
Studland Beach proved remarkably resilient in the face of the 2013/14 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.