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Adapting to Coastal Change at Studland Bay

An aerial view of Studland Bay
An aerial view of Studland Bay | © National Trust Images

The coast is an everchanging environment, constantly being reshaped by the waves, winds and tides. Climate change is likely to increase the rate of coastal change that we experience at Studland. That is why it is important that we act now to understand how the coastline might change, and how we can best adapt to this change.

Sand is always in motion, moved by the waves and wind. At Studland the predominantly south-westerly winds naturally move sand from the south of the peninsula and deposit it to the north. The supply of sand to the south cannot keep up, which leads to erosion at this end of the bay. At the northern end of the peninsula, Studland’s dunes continue to grow.

Storms also have an impact on Studland’s beaches, causing large amounts of sand to be washed from the beach into the bay. Some sand may wash back into shore over time, but much will not return.

Climate change will put an increasing pressure on our coastline. By 2100, sea-levels could be 80 cm higher than they are today. This, combined with more frequent storms, heavier rain and more prolonged heatwaves will increase the rate of coastal change that we experience.

Much of Studland’s coastline is eroding at a rate of about 60cm per year, but this is just an average. During extreme weather conditions, we can sometimes lose several metres overnight. We must make decisions about how best to manage both episodic events and long-term gradual changes to our coastline. We call this process ‘building resilience’.

The National Trust's 'Shifting Shores' policy

How we manage coastal change at Studland is driven by two key policies: the local Shoreline Management Plan, which is produced by the local authority and the Environment Agency, and our national ‘Shifting Shores’ policy. Launched in 2005, the aim of ‘Shifting Shores’ was to encourage coastal National Trust properties to develop long-term plans for their coast, by identifying and putting in place ways to adapt to the increasing pressures of climate change.

A key part of this approach is to work with nature wherever possible in order to create a healthier, more natural environment that can be enjoyed by everyone for years to come. We want to be innovative, working with communities and beach users to create ‘joined up’ and sustainable plans for our coastline.

Adapting to coastal change at Studland Bay

Our vision for the Studland Peninsula is for it to be a naturally functioning coastline. This means we will work with natural processes wherever possible, rather than against it; to allow sand and sediment to move freely around the bay. This is also in line with the guidance written in the local Shoreline Management Plan. By doing this, the dunes will be far more resilient to the pressures of sea-level rise and more regular storms.

We are often asked why we do not do more to stop the erosion. Little can be done to effectively prevent the loss of sand that would not alter the natural character of the beach. Hard defences seen on other sea fronts tend to be used to protect structures and properties in built up areas where there is more infrastructure. Natural sites cannot be fixed in the same way without losing the features that make them unique. Groynes, like those seen on nearby beaches in Poole and Swanage, would not protect Studland Bay from the most damaging easterly storms as waves approach parallel to the beach and draw sand out into the bay. Gabion baskets hold a cliff face in place, but starve the beach below it of fresh material, which acts to accelerate the rate of erosion.

Allowing nature to take its course does not mean that we simply do nothing. There are areas of Studland where we are actively adapting to coastal change, to find sustainable ways to maintain both a healthy coastline and facilities that enable visitors and the local community to enjoy being on the coast.

Learn more about coastal erosion at Studland Bay

Studland is a popular place for school and university students studying geography to come and see an example of an eroding coastline and dynamic dune system. We have a huge range of resources to help support your learning, including information packs, maps, data and more. If you have any questions about climate change and coastal change in Purbeck, or would like to find out more, please contact Sarah Coggins, Coastal Change Officer, by emailing

Aerial view of Middle Beach
An aerial view of Middle Beach | © Chris Lacey

Adapting to coastal change at Middle Beach

We're working towards a sustainable future for Middle Beach and its facilities, which are both impacted by coastal change.

Old maps and photographs show that beach and slope erosion have been occurring at Middle Beach for well over 100 years. The defences have added to the problem by starving the beach of new material so that levels have dropped in recent years.

These defences are now reaching the end of their lives. Instead of rebuilding them, we will find a new location for the café and toilet facilities at Middle Beach that is out of harm’s way.

Removing the defences will allow the shoreline to adjust to a healthier and more natural state. This will not only benefit the natural environment, but will also create a more beautiful coastline for everyone to enjoy.

You can follow updates on the Middle Beach Project below.

Middle Beach Project

December 2023

Update from Project Manager Julie Peters

Following many years of evaluation and consultation a plan to address coastal erosion at Middle Beach has been agreed. The plan has been formulated in line with community and visitor feedback. 

Since early 2023, the Sandy Salt Pig has been operating in a temporary catering unit on the cliff top. The unit is movable to accommodate future coastal change and timber clad to ensure that it relates to the natural / wild feel of the surroundings. In line with community feedback, the area has been landscaped with seating so that views can be enjoyed out to Old Harry Rocks.

Access to and from the beach has also been improved. The Zig Zag path has been re-directed behind the existing beach huts to provide an easier route for visitors down to the beach. 

It is anticipated this arrangement will serve Middle Beach visitors for several years whilst the plan to remove the buildings and reprofile the undercliff is initiated. During this time, plans to develop a permanent catering solution will be finalised and implemented in partnership with the local community. All of the failing sea defences will be removed to allow the shoreline to readjust to a more natural alignment.

We are also working closely with beach hut owners who have been effected by the ongoing erosion at Middle Beach to help find what solutions might work best for each individual.

Middle Beach continues to erode at a rapid pace compared to the rest of the Studland peninsula. During Storm Ciaran in November 2023, we saw erosion rates equivalent to what we might expect over five years occur in just one night. Events such as this remind us of why it is so important that we make plans now to adapt to coastal change, as the risk of events such as these will only increase over years to come.

A view of visitors walking along Knoll Beach from the dunes at Studland Bay, Dorset


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