The coastal erosion of East Anglia is increasing rapidly, in places, over 2 metres per year is being lost to the sea. This is caused by both human activities and natural causes.
Firstly, the coast of East Anglia is made up of soft, easily eroded materials such as clay, chalk, sand and silt. The action of the sea naturally erodes this material. Secondly, there is a large body of opinion that feels global warming is adding to the problem. It is felt that because of the activities of mankind, gases are produced, mainly in industry, that damage the ozone layer, which is the layer of gases that protect the earth from the sun. Therefore, the earth’s average temperature has risen, leading to the melting of certain polar regions which adds more water to the earth’s surface and makes the sea rise. The third problem for East Anglia is marine dredging. Offshore dredging removes natural barriers to the sea in the form of rocks, gravel and sand, thereby increasing the pressure of the sea on the coastline.
The town of Clacton is a prime example of this. Neighbouring areas such as Felixstowe and Harwich are dredging and selling vast annual tonnages of gravel and stones. (Ironically, some of this dredged material was recently used in the defence of Walton-On-The Naze’s coastline by being dumped off-shore). By doing this they are depriving Clacton of long shore drift deposits.
Clacton’s own beach and coastline is still subject to long shore drift but there is nothing to replace what is washed away from Clacton. Also, Clacton has a narrow beach and a narrow beach is unable to absorb the wave energy it faces. A sandier beach would not only decrease the amount of erosion but would also increase the popularity of Clacton as it relies quite heavily on tourists to its beaches. Tendring Council have considered all options and decided on considerable investment in the area of sea defence and have invested in the installation of ‘Wave-Walker’ energy absorbing block and Rip-Rap boulders in conjunction with repair and improvement to the sea-wall and re-surfacing and drainage improvement on the Promenade. (See the adjoining photographs) Walton-On-The Naze has similar problems and quite regularly loses large chunks of cliff top, its sea defences never having been properly replaced since the floods of 1953 washed most of the old defences away.
However, conservation organisations such as’ English Nature’ hinder the councils in their attempts to repel the sea as they believe that ‘hard’ engineering solutions such as sea-walls and man made barriers not only destroy the natural habitat of wild-life but also merely change the direction of the wave energy and cause a problem elsewhere. They support more ‘natural’ solutions such as salt marshes and sand dunes.
Until recently the protection of the entire coastline has been done on a piecemeal basis, with each different council responsible for their own patch. Protection is therefore small scale, short term and has little regard for the effect it will have on neighbouring areas of coastline. For example, large scale use of groynes will prevent natural long shore drift and so deprive the next area of incoming long shore drift. The recent studies have indicated that the need for a more comprehensive approach on a regional scale. Many different changes have been suggested but at the moment options are still being considered.
For the above reasons, The Environment Agency feels that a local management approach is incapable of meeting up to the complexities of the coastal processes . They therefore recommend and support ‘managed retreat’ on a regional rather than local basis. Managed retreat means that -land is surrendered to the sea, particularly low value agricultural land. They recommend compensation to each farmer or landowner for the free supply of sand and sediments left to the beach, restricting building development on marginal land and limiting the amount of sand and aggregate being dredged off-shore.
If the erosion continues unabated, the problems would be great and many. Apart from the loss of land and building of individuals, large area of low lying land, such as the Fens and the Norfolk Broads would be permanently flooded. Tides would come much further inland and fresh water supplies could be polluted. Existing reservoir and dam controls would be inadequate and, eventually, inland drain and sewerage systems could be compromised.
THE VOICE OF THE EAST ANGLIAN DAILY TIMES
Some might laugh at the above headline, but the way the coastline is changing, it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
It is inescapable fact that the physical make up of our coastline leaves the region susceptible to erosion, what is unfortunate, is the rate at which the erosion seems to be happening and the lack of action taken by the responsible authorities.
Whether it is global warming, commercial dredging or just perfectly natural slight climate changes, some action is required to stop or slow down the process.
Individual councils, towns or counties do not have the resource or research available and therefore knowledge available to make the necessary improvements or take adequate action.
Small, individual improvements, such as sea-wall strengthening or installation of Rip-Rap boulders obviously help the defences locally but, when, taken in the context of a long stretch of coastline, they are insignificant.
Government intervention is required, and a detailed analysis of the entire region is needed. That way, all things can be considered. The Environmental Agency’s strategy of natural retreat (giving up the land where appropriate and compensating the local community) can be fully considered together with any physical protections (sea-wall improvement, rip-rap, sand replacement etc) which may be suitable at each point on the coast. In conjunction with this, the effect, if any, of off-shore dredging and physical interference with any parts of the coastline should be closely monitored and action taken where necessary. Whilst looking at the entire region, the effects that changes to the environment in one area will have further down the coast can be borne in mind. Furthermore, the global aspects should be thought of as well, such as the issue of global warming and the fact that sea levels may rise further. Obviously this needs to be fully considered but can only ever be a part of government strategy, it is not the responsibility of local level councils etc.
Above all, it is vital to consider the interests of local people. This includes farmers, residents and businesses that depend on tourists to the area. Their interests should be taken very seriously and considered in conjunction with what is inevitable geographically and possible financially and physically.