Up to six metres of coastline claimed by the sea each year: Some coastal defences can cause erosion on nearby beaches, scientists warn. Nicholas Schoon reports

PARTS of Britain's coastline are being eroded at rates of up to six metres a year. Each year there are large coastal landslips on the same scale as the one destroying Holbeck Hall Hotel in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Yet they rarely make the headlines because fields rather than homes are destroyed. Coastal stretches prone to collapse are sufficiently well known to be off limits to builders.

Yesterday, as the North Yorkshire MEP Edward McMillan-Scott called for emergency EC aid for Scarborough, scientists warned that coastal defence structures used to combat erosion could cause problems further along the coast.

Dr John Pethick, a coastal geomorphologist at Hull University, said the best overall solution was to avoid building in the worst affected areas, surrender land to the sea and compensate landowners affected.

He said compensation should be sorted out at a European level because huge quantities of sediment from Britain's east coast travelled across the North Sea to be deposited on the beaches of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Once there it acted as a natural sea defence.

Dr Pethick said a 25-mile stretch of coast around Holderness, north of Hull, was being eroded at the rate of 2 metres a year, depositing about 1.5 million cubic metres of sediment into the North Sea.

Since Roman times the coast has moved more than two miles inland and some 30 villages have disappeared. Professor Keith Clayton, head of the University of East Anglia's school of environmental sciences, said the erosion rate along a three-mile stretch at Covehithe, north of Southwold in Suffolk, was even higher - six metres a year for several decades. In one location the sea had come inshore by 35 metres during a recent winter.

He said there had been many cases of piecemeal coastal defence works being built this century which caused severe erosion further afield.

On some stretches of coastline one cliff edge can be eroding rapidly while a low-lying area one mile away can be fed by the sediment from it and be in peril should that supply be interrupted.

The southern half of Britain is gradually sinking - as fast as six millimetres a year - while the north is rising: the axis runs between Belfast and Sunderland. This happens because the land mass is still responding to the removal of billions of tons of ice at the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

At the same time, global sea levels may be starting to rise slowly as the sea warms, due to the increase in temperatures brought about by increasing levels of man-made 'greenhouse' gases. Dr Pethick said the rise was happening at about one millimetre a year. The east coast is affected worse than the west because the rocks tend to be softer.

The new thinking is to surrender land wherever possible and to imitate or encourage natural defences, such as beach building.

The Ministry of Agriculture, which has the prime responsibility for coastal defence, is interested. But it has yet to come up with any large-scale trials, or compensation schemes for landowners affected.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links