White cliffs of Dover go crashing into the Channel

A section of Dover's white cliffs collapsed yesterday, sending a 100,000 ton chunk of chalk crashing to the beaches. Witnesses reported a mass "the size of a football pitch" falling 300ft at a point between Dover and St Margaret's Bay.

A section of Dover's white cliffs collapsed yesterday, sending a 100,000 ton chunk of chalk crashing to the beaches. Witnesses reported a mass "the size of a football pitch" falling 300ft at a point between Dover and St Margaret's Bay.

Although the stretch of coastline is popular with walkers and sightseers, there were no reports of injuries or damage to property.

The Dover coastguard said the landslide was "one of the largest in recent" times and has declared a quarter-mile stretch of the landmark coastline a no-go area. It forecast further landslides in the coming days due to coastal erosion caused by extreme weather conditions over the past year.

"It is going to slide eventually and we think it will be sooner rather than later," said a coastguard spokesman. "People should stay away from this stretch. It is very popular with walkers because of its ease of access and an enjoyable route to take but it is dangerous at the moment."

Steve Judd, a park ranger for the National Trust, which part owns the cliffs, said: "Where the cliffs have come away, what is left is very bright white, contrasting with what the dirty white cliffs either side of it.

"It is a pretty spectacular sight. The amount of rocks on the beach below is the equivalent of the size of a football pitch. Passengers on the cross-Channel ferries get a particularly good view."

The collapse was caused by rain being absorbed into the cliff face and then freezing and expanding during the recent cold snap, weakening the rock, said a spokesman for the Dover coastguard. "The ice thaws eventually, leaving large gaps up to 20cm [eight inches] wide."

The cliffs, which recede at a rate of 1cm per year, were not at any risk of falling entirely into the sea, he said. But signs were being posted warning walkers to stay well away from the cliff edge.

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