Skip to content

Our work: coastal change at South Milton Sands

View from the top of the beach at South Milton Sands, South Devon
View from the top of the beach at South Milton Sands | © National Trust Images/Eric McDonald

South Milton Sands is a much-loved beach in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in South Devon. However, it has also experienced the effects of coastal change significantly over the past few decades. Find out how the National Trust has been tackling this ongoing process, from wooden piling sea defences to regenerating a dune system, all with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

Tackling coastal change at South Milton Sands

The National Trust acquired the land at South Milton Sands in 1980.

In 1990 a wooden piling sea defence was built to protect the land behind from erosion.

By 2002 this was reaching the end of its natural lifespan so we consulted with the local community and a wide range of stakeholders to find a more sustainable solution to deal with the coastal change.

A more natural approach

We decided to switch from hard coastal defences (which have a limited life and effectiveness) and adopted a more natural process-based approach.

In 2008 we regenerated an existing dune system which we hoped would flex and adjust with rising sea levels and coastal change. Rotten timber piling and many tons of rubble and waste were removed, and new parking and access created.

Looking towards the steep sides of the sand dunes at South Milton Sands, South Devon
Looking towards the steep sides of the sand dunes at South Milton Sands | © National Trust Images/Eric McDonald

The work was supported locally with hundreds of volunteers helping to plant marram grass to establish the dunes. The project was viewed as a great success.

The storms of 2014

Six years later, a dramatic combination of storm-force winds and extreme high tides had significantly damaged the dune system and the access track that lies behind it.

Richard Snow, Countryside Manager, explained: 'We are committed to public access and protecting the beach for public enjoyment. However, we also need to recognise that coastal change is something we have to accept and adapt to.

‘We now need to work with local people to develop a plan for the area which properly reflects the future impacts of coastal change.’

If you would like to be involved in or kept informed of our ongoing efforts to tackle coastal change at South Milton Sands, please email us or call 01752 346585.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

View of the coastline and water from Hope Cove to Thurlestone from Bolt Tail, Devon


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

You might also be interested in

Child with a net explores rockpools at South Milton Sands, Devon

Things to see and do at South Milton Sands 

Follow the coast path to the pretty village of Hope Cove, enjoy some water sports or stay longer and enjoy some stargazing – there's something for everyone at South Milton Sands.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.

A group of hikers climb a path through woodland towards the camera

For everyone, for ever: our strategy to 2025 

Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.