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Coastal management

THE LOBBY and several bedrooms parted company with the Holbeck Hall Hotel yesterday, leaving half of the four-star establishment behind.

Engineers said heavy rain this spring after several dry summers was the probable cause of the landslip, which has sent sections of the hotel toppling into the North Sea.

The north-east wing of the 30-bedroom hotel collapsed into Scarborough’s South Bay on Saturday night.

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Guests had been evacuated early on Friday after huge cracks appeared overnight.

The rest of the east wing gave way yesterday, leaving the hotel barely half intact, but what remains is likely to be demolished.

Geologists say the east Yorkshire coast, with it’s steep clay cliffs, has always been vulnerable. South of Scarborough, the 40-mile stretch of cliffs of Holderness is the fastest-eroding coastline in Europe and is experiencing the worst land-slips for 40 years.

But Mr Michael Clements, director of technical services for Scarborough council, said sea erosion was not a factor in the Holbeck landslip. The cliffs below the hotel are protected at their base by a sea wall.

The main problem, he said, was probably heavy rain which penetrated layers of sand and gravel in the cliffs, lubricating the clay which had cracked in hot weather.

“There is a long history of cliff movements in the area,” Mr Clements said. “According to local records, the first Scarborough spa was carried away by a landslide in 1770, while the Holbeck cliffs suffered a major slip in 1912.

Cliff stabilisation schemes were carried out further north at Whitby in the 1980’s and at Robin Hood’s Bay in the 1970’s. In the fishing village of Staives, the breakwaters were recently raised.

Pressure for further protection has run up against the obstacle of expense. “The cost of protecting these cliffs is phenomenal.” Mr Clements said. “The work at Whitby cost �3.4 million.”

Most developed areas around Scarborough have seawalls but this is not the case further south, where Mr Eddie Knapp, principal engineer of Holderness council, said there had been “unusually large and particularly worrying” land losses over the past six months.

“The average rate of erosion is 6ft a year but this year it has been up to 65ft in places,” Mr Knapp said.

At Skirlington, 65ft of land has recently fallen into the sea, carrying away 23 bases at a caravan park, while 70ft of land has gone at Aldbrough caravan park, leaving 15ft of unfenced land before a 60ft drop into the sea.

A family living in a chalet at Atwick, near Hornsea, was rehoused when the cliff edge came perilously close.

Mrs Sue Earle, chairman of the Holderness Coast Protection Committee, is to outline local concerns in talks at the Agriculture Ministry today.

Mrs Earle, whose farm-house is 30ft from the cliff edge at Cowden, said: “Now that this has happened in a nationally-known resort, I hope it will help to bring the issue out into the open.

Daily Telegraph, 7.6.93

South Coast subsiding as the sea level rises

By Christine McGourty, Technology Correspondent

PART of the south coast of England is sinking at a rate of almost an inch every five years, according to new research.

The find comes from an analysis of tidal measurement data from 1962 until about 1985 by Portsmouth University researchers.

The higher tide measurements were thought to be a combination of subsidence and rising sea levels.

Discovery of the subsidence � from Portsmouth to Newhaven � follows evidence from around the world that global sea levels have risen by four to six inches over the past 100 years.

The subsidence will add to the problems expected from the sea level rise associated with global warming.

Sea levels on the south coast are expected to rise by at least eight inches by 2050.

Dr Janet Hooke, director of the university’s river and coastal environment research group, said: “Most previous studies showed the subsidence was confined to East Anglia. This is the first analysis to show that parts of the south coast may be subsiding too. The movement may have origins back in the last ice age.”

Malcolm Bray, one of the researchers, said at the Institute of British Geographers’ annual conference in Nottingham: “It seems frightening.

“What we’re doing now is to work out what it means for the local authorities affected.

“We can’t stop flooding � that’s an act of God � but we may be able to minimise the impact through coherent local and regional strategies.

“We need to study the coast over longer distances and look slightly further into the future to stop authorities doing something that could have detrimental effects on their neighbours.

“Our research shows that some parts of the coast are independent but many parts are interconnected.”

They found the stretch from Lyme Regis to Newhaven could be divided naturally into nine “coastal cells”.

Dr Hooke said: “Some preventative measures need to be taken now while the opportunity is there.

“We don’t want to see building on very vulnerable zones, which could just create problems for the future with flooding and erosion.

“Plans may be needed to manage conservation of wetlands which are particularly vulnerable.”

The researchers welcomed the Government’s strategy for coastline management, announced last October, and said that more coherent analysis of longer stretches of coastline were needed all around the country.

* Navy beans, from which baked beans are produced, could be grown in England if the global temperature rises as predicted in the next century, according to a study.

Researchers at Coventry University and Horticultural Research International have found that navy beans could be grown in Hampshire, East and West Sussex and Kent if the temperature rose by just 0.5C in the next century.

The climate is too cold at present for navy bean crops and most are imported from America and Canada.

Daily Telegraph 8.1.94

Erosion-hit resorts pin hopes on reef of tyres

By Richard Spencer and Lynda Murdin

RESIDENTS along the fastest eroding coastline in Europe are hoping a plan to dump millions of tyres in the sea as a protective reef will be given the go-ahead by the Government.

Villages and the resorts of Withernsea and Hornsea on the Holderness coast in Humberside are in danger of slowly falling into the sea.

If the Ministry of Agriculture grants a licence for the trial tyre-reef scheme, it could lead to one of the most ambitious coastal engineering projects in Europe since the Dutch reclaimed its polders from the other side of the North Sea.

The area from Hull to the low, muddy cliffs of the Humberside coast has always suffered erosion. Spurn Head, the spit of land which juts out into the Humber estuary, has been washed away and re-formed six times in recorded history, while many villages already lie underwater.

But, in the past five years, the pace of change has rapidly increased. Some homes have been abandoned and farmers are seeking compensation for loss of land and buildings.

The Humberside trial would submerge a bank of 1.5 million compressed tyres bound with nylon and concrete into a tangle of ropes six or seven metres high, 110 metres long and 60 metres wide.

Placed up to 1,000 metres offshore, it would be tested for its stability, effects on local currents and pollution. If it worked, the full scheme could place more than a billion tyres in seven, two-kilometre long strips all the way up the coast.

Humberside County Council accepts that such an ambitious project is unlikely to go ahead quickly – possibly not even this decade.

In the meantime, the coast depends on smaller schemes under the supervision of Holderness Borough Council.

The most recent, at the village of Mappleton, was opened with fanfares four years ago but, while it has saved the village, it has also caused resentment.

Other villages say that it has accelerated the rate of erosion elsewhere by preventing the protective sand that drifts down the coast from reaching the beaches.

It raised expectations that other schemes could be put in place, hopes the Government dashed in 1993 with a review of policy imposing new environmental and financial demands.

The Department of the Environment is expected shortly to approve a controversial �4.5 million, 1,000-metre sea wall around the North Sea gas terminal run by BP and British Gas near Easington. A full plan, which would also have protected the village, was turned down by the department.

Mr Robin Taylor, Holderness’s director of development, said this appeared to be because under the new guidelines schemes had to prove not just “cost-beneficial” but to be in the national interest. Saving gas supplies probably was, saving villages not.

Mr Ambrose Larkham, who owns the Easington Beach Caravan and Leisure Park, is demanding a public inquiry. “The ludicrous thing is it is almost as cheap to build 1,600 metres while the equipment’s there as it is 1,000,” he said.

Mr Taylor said: “The question of why we are protecting the terminals and not the people of the village is likely to become very controversial. The issue is whether we should be protecting multinational companies and not our own residents.”

But Mr Geoffrey Twizell, terminal manager for British Gas and himself a resident, said: “We are happy to contribute to any scheme that meets everyone’s aspirations. Nobody would be talking about any protection at all for Easington if it weren’t for the gas terminals here.”

Daily Telegraph 1.4.95

Essex drops its guard to let nature take its course

By A J McIlroy

A TACTICAL retreat could be the answer to coastal erosion on the Essex coast, Government engineers have decided.

Contractors from the Ministry of Agriculture and English Nature yesterday lowered the sea wall to flood 21 hectares at Tollesbury Fleet on the Blackwater Estuary.

The area is being restored to salt marshes intended to absorb the power of waves that have been pounding artificial sea defences.

If the experiment succeeds it will be extended along the Blackwater and to other saltwater estuaries.

Roy Hathaway, of the Ministry of Agriculture’s flood and coastal defence division, said tracts of coastal marshes were lost when drainage engineers in the 17th and 18th Centuries built sea walls to reclaim land for farming.

Now, as a result of the gradual rise in sea level, many of the hundreds of miles of sea wall are crumbling.

These are costing millions of pounds to repair, a financial burden that is “becoming increasingly hard to justify”.

He said that to encourage private landowners to accept coastal flooding, the Government had written a “saltmarsh option” into its set-aside programme, the European Union measure to take farmland out of production.

In exchange for allowing their land to become inter-tidal again, farmers would receive �190 per hectare per year for grassland and �500 for arable land.

The payments are guaranteed for 20 years.

Mr Hathaway said the ministry was working with conservation groups to maximise the gain to wildlife by restoring the salt marshes.

Daily Telegraph 5.8.95


By John Hodder

THE PRETTY little Suffolk town of Woodbridge was snoozing under a cloudless sky, with a soft breeze taking the sting out of the sun. I gazed out over the placid surface of the River Deben. It was midday in midsummer and this was quiet, gentle England at its most benign – the sort of place, the sort of time that makes it hard to feel threatened by anything, let alone the forces of nature.

Twenty-four hours later I was on the beach at Dunwich, 20 miles to the north. The conditions were not very different – the same blue sky and hot sun, cooled now by a rather more blustery wind coming off the sea. But here the threat felt very real – probably because here it is very real.

Dunwich is at the mercy of the elements, as it has been down the centuries, and the cliffs just carry on crumbling. If the sea is left to its own devices over the next 70-odd years, the shoreline will retreat by about 200 metres. That, at least, is the experts’projection.

Projections, of course, are not the same as firm predictions. But they underline what the problem is – in this case, chronic erosion. The first and obvious question is: “What can be done to stop it?” The second and much more taxing one is: “Should anything be done to stop it?” Neither question has an easy answer.

If Dunwich is not simply to be abandoned to its fate, a difficult balance will have to be struck between its interest and those of its neighbours. Coastal protection is a tricky science.

Nobody knows that better than Roy Stoddard. His title is senior engineer (coast protection) with the Suffolk Coastal District Council and it was to pick his brains that I had gone to Woodbridge. His job is to oversee the 30-mile stretch of coastline from Felixstowe to Southwold, an area whose sand and shingle beach is notoriously unstable when pounded by the waves of the North Sea. It has suffered grievously in a series of violent storms this century.

The task of looking after it is now shared between the local authority and the National Rivers Authority (NRA), overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). They work closely together and their common enemy is the sea.

The approach to coastal protection has shifted significantly over the past 20 years. “‘Fight against the sea’ was the message until the 1970s,” says Stoddard. “Now we are not trying to fight against it so much as to work with it, using its peculiar ways to destroy its own energy.”

That shift in approach is reflected in marked changes in the sort of barriers now being erected to stem the apparently relentless advance of the waves.

As a result, the traditional beach scene is changing. For example, the solid sea walls built behind the beach – and the wide promenades that have accompanied them since Victorian times – are now out of favour.

Walls merely repel the waves: they do nothing to reduce their speed or power, which is now recognised as the key to the successful preservation of the shor e. Instead, efforts are being concentrated on protecting and building up the beaches themselves.

Similarly, a profusion of timber groynes jutting out at right angles into the sea – the time-honoured means of defence and a common sight along this coast – is seen as far less effective than a few large, rock-based structures shaped like fish-tails.

The old wooden ones are fine for leaning against while you have your lunch or sheltering behind on a cold, blowy day. But they are not good at sheltering the shore. The main problem with them -apart from their propensity to rot – is that they cannot be made long enough or deep enough to significantly slow down the incoming rush of water.

Hence the move towards the new fish-tail variety. A series of these has been built at Clacton, 20 miles to the south of Stoddard’s patch. He is now proposing to develop the concept further by building two similar groynes at Cobbolds Point in Felixstowe, using rock and concrete. Despite their size, which might be considered ugly and intrusive, few people dislike them, he says, and the arguments in their favour are compelling.

By confronting the sea farther out they do much more to take the steam out of the waves before they reach the shore. And the farther out you go, the more shore you protect by creating two calm areas in the lee of the two wings of the “tail”. Thus you help to build up a long stretch of sheltered beach.

“Fish-tailed groynes are many times the length of wooden groynes but you only need one about every kilometre rather than one every 20-30 metres,” says Stoddard. “As well as being more environmentally-friendly because they enable people to walk along the whole beach – something they couldn’t do before, at least not without stepping over groynes every few yards.

“They have another advantage over sea walls. If you build them and find they don’t work as well as you’d like, you can pick them up and move them. You can’t do that with a massive sea wall.”

Stoddard sees the introduction of fish-tail groynes as a “soft-engineering solution” in contrast to the old “hard” solution of building walls, which is now seen as causing more difficulties than it solves. “The problem is that whenever you build a hard wall it is almost invariably accompanied by the beach levels falling. The sea is thrown back off the wall and drags the sand and shingle out. Sometimes the wall itself is undermined – you can shore it up but in time the same thing will happen again.”

Solid walls are the most concrete (literally) expression of the view that you must at all costs protect the land against the sea. That view is now being challenged. “You have four options,” says Stoddard. “Do nothing, hold the line, advance or retreat. Ten years ago the general view was that everything that could be saved should be saved. Now people are far more aware that harsh decisions have to be made.”

Such decisions have worrying implications for places like Dunwich. There, to stop the erosion, you would have to start building some form of protective structure along the beach: merely reinforcing the shingle bank is not enough to stop continuing inroads being made into the coast.

So why the hesitation over doing something more effective about it? Simply this: the erosion of the cliffs at Dunwich has positive benefits for the beach immediately to the south at Sizewell. Dunwich’s loss is thus Sizewell’s gain: that is nature’s way. It is a conundrum repeated all along the coast.

“If you have got to save the cliffs at Dunwich, you’ve got to find alternative means of feeding the beach at Sizewell,” says Stoddard. “In the end, you have to say that there are some places you won’t protect – and people have got to come to terms with that.”

Such a hard-nosed attitude can stir up fierce emotions, not least because of the way it could affect both the people who live there now and those who would like to join them. Consequently, it has serious implications for local planners. Do you, for example, go on allowing people to build houses near the sea, thus continually extending the number of years that you have to go on protecting that particular bit of coast – probably at someone else’s expense?

Another issue arousing controversy is the question of compensation for landowners whose land is gobbled up by the sea. At the moment there is no provision for compensation – indeed, it was specifically excluded from the 1949 Coast Protection Act. But as Stoddard says: “How do you tell a farmer that his 500 acres of productive arable land would be far better as salt marsh? The question of compensation is going to have to be addressed very shortly.”

The difficult questions roll in almost as relentlessly as the sea. I pondered them late at night as I walked the beach at Aldeburgh, with the wind strengthening from the north-east and the waves crashing on to the shingle. They were still nagging away later still, as I lay in bed listening to the roar on the shore just below my hotel window. The sound that had been so soothing in the summer sunshine had taken on a darker edge. Suddenly the forces of nature seemed far less benign.

Leisurely progress coastal protection has developed piecemeal over the past 150 years, driven not so much by pure science as by the demand to fulfil social expectations.

It was essentially that pressure which led to the widespread introduction of sea walls. From the mid-19th century wealthy Victorians sought the development of coastal resorts. To realise their leisurely ambitions, engineers were drafted in to build the walls and the promenades which went with them.

Over the years it has become increasingly obvious that such a haphazard approach is unsatisfactory and that activity on one bit of the coast could have damaging effects on another. The need for greater planning and co-ordination, recognised in the 1949 Coast Protection Act, is now universally acknowledged: it will be reflected in the six new shoreline management plans that are being prepared for the whole of the east coast, from the Humber to the Thames.


From Compton’s Complete Reference Collection

Landforms that result from erosion, or wearing away of the land, make up some of the most scenic coastal areas in the world. Sea cliffs that border many rocky coasts are an example. These cliffs were created when pounding waves weakened the lower portion of the rock to the extent that parts of the cliffs above tumbled into the water, leaving a rock wall with rubble at the bottom.

Solid rock shores that lack beaches are easily destroyed by the sea. Beaches consequently protect the shore. Sometimes groins (short piers that extend out into the sea from 30 to 200 meters, depending on the nature of the beach) are constructed to protect the shores from erosion. This has been done along the coasts of the Black Sea.

In recent years, some beaches have been artificially restored with sand taken from the sea bottom or from nearby dunes. This has been done on many beaches in the United States and on the island of Norderney in the North Sea.