National strategy needed to protect coastal areas like Birling Gap

Birling Gap
Birling Gap

A clear national strategy is urgently needed to help coastal areas such as Birling Gap cope with extreme weather, according to a report published by the National Trust.

Over the last few months the Express has reported how seven years’ worth of erosion has taken place at Birling Gap after rising sea levels and fierce storms battered the area.

Last week the cottage closest to the edge of the cliff was demolished in a bid to stop it from falling into the sea and the National Trust’s sun lounge and ice cream parlour had to be taken down.

The National Trust said it has seen many of its sites battered by the bad weather and said its impact means it had to fast track decisions about land and buildings in its care and look at how to adapt coastal places in the months ahead rather than years or decades. It said the goverment has to work with communities to help future-proof the coastline.

Simon Pryor, national environmental director, said: “There is a natural inclination to want to defend the coastline with concrete, but our coastline is dynamic and the forces of nature that have formed it are part of its beauty. Hard defences will always have their place, but the winter storms that hit many coastal places hard have provided a valuable reminder that they have a limited life. Where we can we need to give natural processes that have formed our coast the space to work, and create areas where the coastline can realign as the sea levels rise. Natural habitats such as sand-dunes and salt marshes can act as buffer zones that absorb the impact of storms and very high tides.”

The report, Shifting Shores - adapting to change, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said there needs to be a plan for long-term coastal management.

Mr Pryor said: “Communities living on the coast, landowners, government agencies and local and central government all need to work together now to find solutions based around an adaptation approach to help future-proof the coastline. Much of the framework to make this happen is in place but Government needs to act now to make sure that it’s implemented and the support is there for coastal communities to begin planning to adapt.”

Around 60 per cent of the land that the National Trust cares for on the coastline is at risk of erosion with 15 per cent of sites potentially losing more than 100 metres of land to the sea. The National Trust said at Birling Gap rapid erosion during winter means thinking now about the future of the cafe and shop which is located metres from the chalk cliffs. The long term plan is to move it back and then review it in 20 or 30 years.