Until the big storms of 1989 and 1990, Sidmouth had a typically English shingle beach which made a lasting impression on the minds, not to mention the posteriors, of generations of holidaymakers. However, a series of force 12 gales swept both sand and shingle away, lowering the level of the beach by 15 feet (5m) and coming close to exposing the bedrock underneath.
The tourist trade has survived because Sidmouth does have another beach but unless urgent action is taken, the town's sea defences are in serious danger of being breached.
East Devon District Council wants to replace the lost shingle which used to soak up the fury of waves now breaking directly on to the sea wall and threatening to flood the esplanade.
The council has applied to the Crown Estate, which owns British seashores below the low-tide mark, for a prospecting licence to search for 250,000 tons of shingle in the sea off Sidmouth.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has agreed to foot the pounds 100,000 bill for the search by a survey vessel, which is scheduled to start within the next few weeks.
Jeff Bailey, the council's technical services manager, said yesterday: 'We do know that there is shingle east of the Isle of Wight but it is wanted by the gravel industry and we would have to pay commercial rates for it.'
By searching in Lyme Bay, off Sidmouth, the council may save pounds 1m by finding cheaper sub-commercial grade shingle and, if local fishermen are to be believed, they could even retrieve the original beach.
'The fishermen are convinced that the shingle upon which holidaymakers attempted to get a sun-tan for decades has only moved two miles offshore where it has formed a new underwater shoal.
Mr Bailey, who treats such tales with caution, said: 'It would be nice to find our own beach and get it back again and we will certainly be seeing whether the fishermen are right.'Reuse content