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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.

Easterly 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 easterly 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 much more than this in a single event. 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.

Together, we use these two policies to inform our Coastal Adaption Strategy for the Purbeck coast. We care for 24km of the Purbeck coastline, including beaches, limestone cliffs, lowland heath and chalk grasslands. Each area will respond differently to climate change. This is why we have developed a strategy which takes into account their different characteristics, how they are used by local communities and visitors and what natural value exists which we need to protect. You can read the full strategy document here: Coastal management policy in Purbeck (PDF / 4.6MB)

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 system. 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 valuable property and 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 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 Engagement Officer, at: sarah.coggins@nationaltrust.org.uk

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 occuring 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 want to 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.

In Autumn 2016 we began working with representatives from the local community and beach users to find a solution to the problem. The group undertook a rigorous consultation including public drop-in sessions, surveys and gathering expert advice. The process identified several options for where the new facilities could be located, some of which were later discounted as a result of feasibility studies. In April 2019, the group agreed to begin the detailed planning phase of a project to relocate the facilities to the north east corner of the Middle Beach car park.

As a result of the coronarvirus outbreak in March 2020, all non-essential projects within the National Trust were stopped or deferred. In Purbeck this unfortunately included the Middle Beach Facilities Project. Now, the project has restarted, and we can once again continue our work.

You can follow updates on the Middle Beach Project below.

Middle Beach Project

October 2022

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 feedback, specifically for there to be no interruption in catering services at Middle Beach whilst the undercliff is re-profiled and for the beautiful view of the bay and Old Harry Rocks to be observable to all visitors as and when they seek refreshments.

The plan will see a temporary catering unit sited on the cliff top. The unit will be movable to accommodate future coastal change and timber clad to ensure that it relates to the natural / wild feel of the surroundings. It will be positioned in the northeast area of the car park. The area will be landscaped with seating so that views can be enjoyed and screened to protect visitors from dust from the car park.

Access to and from the beach will be improved. The Zig Zag path will be re-enforced and re-directed behind the existing beach huts to arrive at the lower combe in the form of a wooden boardwalk.

It is anticipated this arrangement will serve Middle Beach visitors from early 2023 and be in place for 1-2 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 line with the Environment Agency Shoreline Management Plan, the National Trust Master Plan for Studland and in partnership with the local community.”

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

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