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Coastal Erosion Is Nothing New

October 31, 2018

By Paul Homewood

John Gummer was trying to scare us about coastal erosion last week, but perhaps he ought to study a bit of history.

Countryside Magazine has a neat summary of some of the coastal villages, which have had to be abandoned over the centuries. Many are a direct result of erosion.






© Diana Jarvis/ Getty Images

The village of Dunwich still stands a few miles from Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, but it used to be a much larger town. In the 11th century, it had a large port, a naval base, two seats in parliament and one-sixth of the population of London.

Unfortunately, the coastline in which it stands is one of the fastest eroding in Europe. Couple this with a storm surge in 1286, and two ‘great storms’ the following year, and the decline was sealed.

Dunwich is now home to fewer than 200 people, with just a couple of amenities and a pub. Many of the original buildings were pulled over a cliff, and now rest up to ten metres below the waterline. Despite this, some are still identifiable.


The full list can be seen here.

  1. HotScot permalink
    October 31, 2018 12:59 pm

    Just listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 drivelling on about fracking and the ‘earthquakes’ it causes and then George Monbiot on as a guest drivelling on about land use for food. Both topics invites various comments from the public about population control and not having a planet left “in a few years”.

    I just don’t get this belief that the world should somehow stand still for the sake of mankind.

  2. Nordisch geo-climber permalink
    October 31, 2018 1:07 pm

    The disappeared Holderness (East Yorkshire) villages are large in number, and most of them were lost well before the modern era. Of course there were plenty of people living in the middle of the North Sea – before the natural sea level rise that drowned them.

    • October 31, 2018 1:13 pm

      Doggerland? Have to be Captain Nemo to live there now.

  3. October 31, 2018 1:11 pm

    Someone send those guys to a Geology 1 course.

  4. John189 permalink
    October 31, 2018 1:29 pm

    Somewhat wandering Countryfile article: some of the examples are villages abandoned for industrial or defence reasons – nothing to do with erosion. And Winchelsea tells a different story. Old Winchelsea was drowned in the 13th century; the new town was built on the nearby Ightham Hill with a port on an inlet of the English Channel at its foot. The harbour silted up as drifting shingle extended the land. A second port was built in the 1700s but this in turn silted up. The point is that the coast – like the climate! – is ever shifting. Erosion happens, but so does land-building. It may even be the case that the site of Old Winchelsea is now once more covered by land, somewhere close to Camber Sands.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      October 31, 2018 2:01 pm

      How about Rye? A former Cinque Port before the sea ran away and they created Rye Harbour.

    • George Lawson permalink
      November 1, 2018 9:41 am

      But it’s no use pointing this out to people like John Gummer as it might put his income at risk!

  5. October 31, 2018 1:44 pm

    I mentioned Dunwich in a tweet last week, responding to a clueless Green journalist who was promoting Gummer’s bogus claims.

  6. October 31, 2018 3:14 pm

    I know Dunwich very well and also all the coast between there and Aldborough, which has been eroding since Medieval times. My best man was born and raised in a house just a few metres from the sea at Dunwich, and way back in about 1968 he took me bone hunting along the cliffs by the ruined priory. Every storm uncovered more bones from the Medieval burial ground.

    John Gummer was MP for Suffolk coastal, so he knows very well that coastal erosion has been going on there for centuries. But we all know that, in common with lots of politicians, he is renowned for being economical with the truth.

    • October 31, 2018 3:22 pm

      The big worry, Phillip, is the possibility that Gummer was MP for Suffolk Coastal and didn’t know the extent of coastal erosion over the centuries. On balance I think I would probably prefer a liar as my MP to an ignorant fool.

  7. Stonyground permalink
    October 31, 2018 3:15 pm

    I live about six miles inland in Holderness. Coastal erosion has been an issue since I was a kid, (I’m sixty) which is long before climate change became an issue. I can remember visiting places like Tunstall and Aldborough where there would be houses perched precariously on the cliff top and roads that ended abruptly with red and white barriers erected to keep unsuspecting motorists from driving over the edge.

  8. John F. Hultquist permalink
    October 31, 2018 3:56 pm

    Don’t want you Brits to think you are the only ones with funky beaches.
    This one is on the left coast of the State of Washington.
    Up coming vote, if it passes, on a “carbon” tax is going to fix this.
    Yeah, right!

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      October 31, 2018 3:59 pm

      At that site, click on “galleries.”

  9. Philip permalink
    October 31, 2018 4:03 pm

    Are the Dutch abandoning their coastline like us?

  10. Dave Ward permalink
    October 31, 2018 8:15 pm

    If John Gummer was to visit the little museum in Dunwich (well worth it) he could see the scale model of the original town, before it ended up in the sea. Not only a significant settlement vanished, but (IIRC) no less than EIGHT churches as well. Local folklore has it that on stormy nights you can still hear a bell ringing…

  11. dennisambler permalink
    November 1, 2018 12:16 am

    There is also Happisburgh, with erosion history going back centuries as well.

    and Hornsea:

    ‘We find decayed, by the following of the sea in Hornsey Beck, since the first year of King Edward VI, 1546, thirty-eight houses, and as many little closes adjoining. Also we find, since the same time, decayed in ground the breadth of twelve score yards throughout the fields of Hornsey…’ Inquisition held at Hornsea 28th April 1609

    Also Withernsea and Kilnsea with similar impacts over the centuries, including the collapse of Kilnsea church in 1826.

  12. dennisambler permalink
    November 1, 2018 11:46 am

    Hidden in the depths of Defra: Quaternary of East Anglia Joint Nature Conservation Committee

    JNCC is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation.

    “The deep-sea sedimentary record shows that up to 50 ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ climatic oscillations have occurred within the last 2.4 Ma. Equally, the glacial and interglacial periods cannot be characterized simply as ‘cold’ or ‘warm’, respectively; the ice ages were not unbroken in their frigidity since the exceptionally cold phases (stadials) were punctuated by warmer periods (interstadials), in some cases lasting for several thousand years.

    The fundamental characteristic of the Quaternary Period is therefore one of change through time and space in geomorphological processes, floras, faunas and environmental conditions, all modulated by the changing climate. The record of such changes is preserved in a variety of landforms, sediment sequences and organic remains.

    The abrupt onset of the late Cainozoic ice ages is, as yet, unexplained. However, the succession of ice ages (glacials) and interglacials has occurred at known frequencies, and changes in insolation (the receipt of solar radiation at the Earth’s surface and throughout its atmosphere) associated with the Earth’s orbital rhythms are now established as the principal external driving forces of the Earth’s climatic system.

    The last time Britain experienced conditions similar to today was about 125 ka, when the interglacial (part of the Ipswichian Stage) lasted about 10 ka.

    Unlike the flora, some elements of the Quaternary fauna have evolved. Therefore, certain glacial and interglacial periods can be characterized broadly by distinctive fossil assemblages, particularly those of large mammals. During the last interglacial, for example, creatures such as the hippopotamus, lion and elephant were indigenous to Britain.

    The succession of glacials and interglacials and the growth and decay of ice sheets have been accompanied by equally profound changes in the coastal zone. World sea level has varied in time with the amount of water locked up in the ice sheets, and during glacial stages, world or eustatic sea levels have been lowered.

    The converse is true during warmer interglacial phases. The level of the land has also varied, sinking under the weight of advancing ice sheets and rising up or rebounding when they melted (isostasy).

    This complex interplay of changing land and sea levels has left a widespread legacy in Britain, manifested by the many beaches, shore platforms and marine sediments which now lie above the present sea level. Equally, a range of submerged shoreline features, drowned forests and valleys provide important evidence for sea levels which were relatively lower in the past.”

    Not a mention of CO2 anywhere in this section, but don’t despair, here it is:
    Climate change adaptation: Indicator under development – progress to date This is a difficult concept to be able to measure, and it has not yet been possible to develop an indicator.

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