In the UK, Years of Erosion in a Month

February 25, 2014



The speed of coastal erosion caused by recent extreme weather has been “breathtaking”, according to the National Trust.

It said that in a matter of weeks some popular areas had suffered levels of erosion which normally take years.

At Birling Gap in East Sussex the trust has had to dismantle some of its buildings after three metres (9ft) of cliff was lost to the sea.

Dorset’s Brownsea Island and Mullion Harbour in Cornwall have also suffered.

Jane Cecil, the trust’s general manager for the South Downs, said: “We’ve had about seven years of erosion [at Birling Gap] in just two months.

The National Trust owns more than 740 miles of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, around a tenth of the total coastline for the three countries.

Peter Nixon, the trust’s director of land, landscape and nature, said: “We’re expecting more extremes, less predictability, more stormy events, combined with an underlying issue of rising sea levels.”

He warned against the trap of believing “we can engineer our way out of this”.

He said: “We all have to be sensitive to those who have become dependent on artificial defences, but if you keep up defending, you build up the risk of a catastrophic event.

“A false sense of security in artificial defences can lead you to a catastrophic collapse, as opposed to a managed impact.

“You can’t hold the line everywhere, it’s physically impossible and it’s not good for society.”


Britain is stepping up plans to redraw its rail map with a new route to southwestEngland after storms that swept a historic coastal line into the sea left more than 1 million people cut off from the rest of the system.

Network Rail Ltd., which maintains the U.K.’s tracks, may reopen a disused route to help bypass the ruined Dawlish seawall, Patrick Hallgate, route managing director for the region, said in an interview. The plan would most probably cost in excess of 100 million pounds ($167 million), he said.

Storms that lashed Britain this month destroyed the Dawlish defenses that protected the Great Western line for 150 years, leaving 430 feet of track dangling above the waves and isolating most of Devon and neighboring Cornwall, including Plymouth with 250,000 people. While Network Rail is making its own assessment of alternative routes, it has also joined a local study of the disused inland route and will report to the government by June.

“The seawall was in good condition and the storms we’ve seen this winter would have had the same effect at any point in the past, so while examining how to mitigate the threat to Dawlish we’re looking at five alternatives,” Hallgate said. “The problem is that not one is favorable to all parties.”

The Great Western line, designed by Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has been severed for days or weeks at a number of other points in recent months, ranging from flooding after rivers burst their banks on the Somerset Levels to seawater that inundated the platforms at Penzance.

Britain’s railway may need to learn to live with such extreme events given a changing climate, Go-Ahead Group Plc (GOG) Chief Executive Officer David Brown said today after his company’s SouthEastern commuter network was hit by 23 landslips as rising groundwater destabilizes cuttings and embankments.

“We’ve had huge problems with floods, landslips and fallen trees,” he said in an interview. “You can’t look back to the past any more and say this or that approach was good enough.”

6 Responses to “In the UK, Years of Erosion in a Month”

  1. omnologos Says:

    it makes for a change from previous failed campaigns by the National Trust (aka Attack of the Killer Orange Groves, The Day of The Palm Triffids, London’s California Horror), most likely running the risk of making climate change very popular ’round here.

    ps we can blame the Nazis for the Dawlish derailment

  2. anotheralionel Says:

    I spent many a happy hour on the sands as a kid building sand castles at Dawlish and nearby Dawlish Warren watching Stars, Castles, Kings and Counties pull expresses along that sea wall during the 1950s, with their gleaming Brunswick Green paintwork, brass safety valve cover, number and nameplates and splasher beading and copper capped chimney. So sad to see it dismantled and potentially closed, although good sense would have two lines to improve services and get off motor transport.

    Two world wars saw railway companies brought to their knees, particularly the last officially recognised world war with unprecedented skimping on maintenance, material repairs and new build, whilst mileages and traffic soared. And then there was the blackout which threw a heavy burden onto railway crews of all grades and much bomb damage too. The railways were in dire shape at the end of that conflict.

    Nationalisation had its problems but they were getting ironed out despite the wrecking efforts of successive, mostly conservative, governments where accountants and economists ran riot whilst there was a conflict of interest for one of the main shakers one Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, who was one of those founding the construction empire Marples-Ridgeway which he conveniently sold to his wife to deflect criticism.

    Then Thatcher swung her brand of axe and things were just starting to turn around again when guess what, a Tory Prime Minister and his cronies Privatised it, and in the most insane way possible.

    A well balanced description of events can be found in


    It is probably no coincidence that I have similar views on the British railway debacle as Adrian. Growing up in the same city as Adrian, habituating the same busy level crossing where two major railways crossed on the level, near a gas works and the GW engine sheds with a convenient hole in the wire fence through which to escape out of after riding the footplate of a steamer as it came off an express and was driven to the shed has left its mark. I visited the same two stations in the city, stations that had the longest covered footbridge in Europe joining them, and at about the same time as Adrian although my hunch is that he may be a couple of years younger and went to the other grammar school so I don’t recall meeting him.

    Basically our leaders are incapable of governing for the benefit of ordinary citizens.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “Basically our leaders are incapable of governing for the benefit of ordinary citizens”. To which I would add “….or for the future of the nation, the human race, and every living thing on the planet”.

      That said, it’s good to hear you speak of your childhood experiences with trains. I have such memories too, but they have long been replaced by visions AMTRAK, which is a child of the “new order”, and is about as much fun.

  3. […] 2014/02/25: PSinclair: In the UK, Years of Erosion in a Month […]

  4. […] 2014/02/25: PSinclair: In the UK, Years of Erosion in a Month […]

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