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Telegraph Discovers Coastal Erosion

January 29, 2021

By Paul Homewood

 

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The Daily Telegraph’s reputation slowly sinks below the waves!!

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If the baby who wrote this had bothered to do a basic bit of journalism, he would have found out the Happisburgh coast has been eroding in leaps and bounds for centuries, and that “climate” has nothing to do with it at all.

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For instance the village website reports:

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The story of the village is inseparably linked with the sea. For residents of Happisburgh, and for hundreds who visit each year, the sea represents many different things: a source of livelihood; a place of recreation and fun; a sight to gaze at and wonder over; a worrying, unpredictable, dangerous and potentially destructive power.

Happisburgh has lost land to the sea throughout the centuries. The rate of erosion has been erratic – at times large areas have disappeared overnight, and at others the cliff has remained virtually the same for some years.

Whimpwell, was a parish adjoining Happisburgh The Abbot of St Benets was Lord and patron of the church. Its destruction was very rapid. By 1183 only one field remained. but the name lives on in Whimpwell Street and Whimpwell Green. In 1987, the Yarmouth Sub-Aqua Club discovered a large stone structure partly buried beneath the seabed of Happisburgh. It is L-shaped, 75 yards by 200 yards and at points rises to 40 feet. Could it be a quay heading from the medieval village of Whimpwell?

1845 A twelve-acre field at Happisburgh was drilled with wheat. A north-west gale raged all night, and by new morning the field had disappeared.

1854 White’s Directory for this year reported that the sea had encroached 250 yards in the last 70 years at Happisburgh.

1855 Doggett’s Farm -the house. a large barn and the premises – were lost to the sea.

1883 The Low Lighthouse was threatened with erosion. It was withdrawn from service and demolished.

1938 The sea broke through at Horsey near the Nelson’s Head forming a gap of 100 yards in the dunes. Land from Horsey Church to West Somerton was flooded with salt water to a depth of a foot for months, killing many willow trees and all other vegetation.

1953 On Saturday 31st January, a strong north-wester of over 110 miles an hour caused the worst disaster since the flood in 1287. The sea claimed the lives of 76 Norfolk people flooded thousands of homes. An exceptionally high evening tide whipped up by the gale was two hours earlier predicted. It surged down the East Coast smashing defences and flooding low-lying land. A bungalow at Happisburgh, which at teatime on Saturday stood 15 feet from the cliff, was hanging over the cliff edge on Sunday morning. By 8.00 p.m. the surge reached Sea Palling and burst through the sand dunes, carrying away four houses, a cafe, a general store and a bakery. Families clung desperately to roof tops until rescued by Stalham Fire Brigade in a commandeered dingy. Twenty or more were saved, but seven died, including a mother and her three children.

1976 During January heavy seas caused considerable erosion on the south cliffs of Happisburgh resulting in two bungalows hanging over the edge of the cliff.

21st February 1993 Ferocious tidal waves again caused considerable erosion along the coastline. At Happisburgh a large portion of the south cliff was swept away causing a bay to be formed and farm land lost.

19th February 1996 During a prolonged gale and snowstorm the defences were breached and another bungalow was perilously close to the cliff top, eventually succumbing to the sea.

March 1999 Encroachment continued, resulting in the destruction of more bungalows and an increasingly large bay.

As a result of these latest incursions a village meeting was held to express concern to the local district council. In 2001 a study was conducted to come up with possible solutions.

Preventative Measures over the years.

Many schemes have been tried over the years to prevent erosion.

1802 The Revd. John Hewitt, Perpetual Curate of Wale Vicar of Granchester, spent £100 in an attempt to fill up the breach between Waxham and Horsey. The Hon. Harbord, the first Lord Suffield, lent implements to aid the undertaking. The dunes were levelled to increase width at the base, the seaward side being sloped at such an angle that, it was hoped, waves would roll up and recede harmlessly. Transverse groynes were also erected. Unfortunately, before the work was completed, a spring tide coinciding with a north-west wind broke through the bank.

1803 During the 18th century land between Happisburgh and Great Yarmouth was flooded on numerous occasions, and disputes arose as to whether 1and1ords shou1d be responsib1e for the protection of their land. In this year the Court of the Commissioners of Sewers determined that ‘No particular persons are bound to sustain or repair the sea walls adjoining their land’.

1836 An entry under Happisburgh in White’s Directory states ‘it is calculated the Church will be engulphed in the ocean before the middle of the ensuing century. In the same year, William Hewitt, MRCS, a relative of the Revd. John and a Stalham surgeon, suggested that breakwaters should be constructed parallel with the cliffs. He believed that these would cause sand to accumulate on the foreshore. He noted that those set at right angles to the cliff caused sand to build up on one side only. His idea was based on observations of the wreck of the Revenue cutter the ‘Hunter’. A sandbank had formed between the wreck and the shore, and stretched almost to Walcott. A violent storm shifted the vessel and the bank disappeared. Hewitt also suggested sinking old ships a short distance from the shore. Some landowners acted upon his advice, but the wrecks became a hazard to shipping and were later removed.

1954 A sea wall was built at Walcott, and a local inhabitant is reported to have said. ‘Do you mark my words. Now they’ve built the wall at Walcott, Hasbro’ Church will be in the sea in twenty years. That’s the southern end, and wherever they’ve built they’ve never been able to stop the sea getting round the southern end of it.’

1958 Early in the year, the 40 feet cliffs at Happisburgh severely from erosion. Falls of cliff were frequent and access to the beach at Town Gap was impossible. No boats could be launched.

1958/59 The first sea defences were built at Happisbugh and were later extended. Steel, greenheart and jarrah wood were used in their construction. The rate of erosion decreased, any loss of land being due mainly to surface water causing falls of cliff.

During the last forty years portions of the revetment have been destroyed, and repairs have been carried out on numerous occasions, but have not succeeded in preventing the formation of a large bay to the south of Happisburgh. To attract grant aid for capital works, stringent Government criteria must be satisfied, which relies heavily on the value of land and property at risk, thus prejudicing the relatively low property value in Norfolk as opposed to for example the South Coast of England. The Government’s declared present policy (1999) is to maintain ‘a sustainable coastline’

http://happisburgh.org.uk/ccag/history/

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Note the comment in 1854:

The sea had encroached 250 yards in the last 70 years at Happisburgh

Now the rate is only 1 meter a year, and according to the BBC there has been about 6m of erosion since 1998.

The cause of the erosion is well known – the cliffs along the Norfolk coast are formed of soft sediment laid down during the Ice Age, that literally crumbles away in your hands, as this video shows:

 

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Photographic evidence from 1955 proves that erosion had already advanced far enough to threaten a row of houses clearly only built a decade or so before, which would have been erected a safe distance from the sea:

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https://www.francisfrith.com/happisburgh/happisburgh-the-beach-c1955_h304044

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I bet Telegraph readers would have found all of this a much more interesting story than the half a page of juvenile twaddle presented to them!



35 Comments
  1. Frances Hirst permalink
    January 29, 2021 6:25 pm

    Most Telegraph readers probably know enough to know the historical background of this coast to be aware already

  2. Barbara permalink
    January 29, 2021 6:27 pm

    Yes this Telegraph reader much enjoyed your version and congratulations too to the village website for logging and making available to all this historic information,

  3. Aaron Halliwell permalink
    January 29, 2021 6:35 pm

    Well done for squashing this this ridiculous story!

    • Dodgy Geezer permalink
      January 29, 2021 9:45 pm

      It has not been squashed. This site preaches to the converted.

  4. Mike Jackson permalink
    January 29, 2021 7:03 pm

    Much of the east coast has been subject to erosion for as long as I can remember. A trip to Newbiggin (Northumberland) with my grandmother was a regular event in the 1940s and there was fair sized beach at low tide in the bay south of the headland. Last time I was there (mid-1960s) virtually the whole of that beach had disappeared though I believe there has been successful reclamation work since.

    As I think I have written before my in-laws had a cottage on the coast at Barmston south of Bridlington. Long gone as has much of the Holderness coast.

    Climate change has absolutely nothing to do with it!

    No mention of course of the Kent ports now several miles inland!!

    • Lorde Late permalink
      January 29, 2021 7:28 pm

      Yes, we cant get our boats into the harbour now! but do have lots of methane producing sheep on the new land,so not all bad🤷🏻.

  5. Penda100 permalink
    January 29, 2021 7:09 pm

    Presumably the “journalist” responsible for the story has never heard of Dunwich. One of England’s largest ports lost to storms in the 11th century. Obviously caused by Climate Change.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      January 29, 2021 7:29 pm

      The Dunwich village museum has a good display which shows just how much is now under the North Sea, and what a substantial settlement Dunwich was in its heyday. IIRC, it had no less that EIGHT churches – only one survives today. Local legend claims that bells can still be heard chiming during stormy weather…

  6. Dave Ward permalink
    January 29, 2021 7:22 pm

    Looking at the 1955 picture, I’m almost certain that I (along with my sisters & parents) stayed in one of those properties – I was born in ’56, and would have been about 8 at the time. They were the coast side of an unmade access road, and not long after that holiday the one we stayed in went over the edge. Another row were standing on the landward side of the road, and I’m guessing were the ones referred to in 1976. Now the large houses a bit further down are long gone, as is the slipway to the beach. Within the last year even a new car park built well back is under threat!

    During a school trip we learnt that it’s not just the soil which is the problem – it sits on an impervious layer of clay. This means heavy rain percolates down and literally “Floats” the overlying sediment out towards the North Sea every so often. If you can get down to the beach (not always easy!) this layer is clearly visible. I suspect the church is not going to be standing for another 100 years (quite possibly less than 50), but the famous lighthouse (featured in “Challenge Anneka”) will probably outlast most of the village…

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      January 29, 2021 10:20 pm

      I remember traveling down Beach Road, Happisburgh, towards the sea, then along the coast, past the chalets, to the caravans where we would visit some family friends who had a caravan there. The cliff edge must have been about 60ft from the caravan, with some steps down to the beach. I remember the steps being like clay, probably because it was, supported by wooden barriers.
      I was there either late 1950s or early 1960s and, as a child, I knew that the cliffs were not indestructible.
      I wondered what the owners thought about that but, as a child, never asked! At least it was a caravan, and could be moved!
      Time passed, I moved away and, about a decade ago, I thought, ‘I wonder what has happened to the caravans, I’ll have a look on the Internet’, and to my amazement saw that, to visit the property would mean being around 200 yds out to sea! It’s difficult to judge the distance, as Beach Road curved around to the right, then ran parallel to the coast, and it’s all gone!
      Amazed, because of what happened, and because it happened when I wasn’t looking! 🙂

  7. January 29, 2021 7:26 pm

    The whole Suffolk coastline around Dunwich has been eroding for centuries. My friend from university lived right by the beach at Dunwich and used to collect bones from the ruined abbey as they were gradually exposed as the cliff eroded. Go south to Aldeburgh and see the coastline changing before your very eyes.

    • Beagle permalink
      January 29, 2021 11:59 pm

      I was on the Thorpeness beach today and you could see the fresh erosion with piles of sand and clumps of soil at the bottom of the cliffs. We had a fair amount of rain yesterday, that’s all it needs to cause the cliffs to collapse. The cliffs are literally just sand, soil and clay.

  8. Jorgen Faxholm permalink
    January 29, 2021 7:39 pm

    He would also have learnt that the Happisburgh hand axe is evidence of hominins livivng in England 700,000 years ago – a couple of iceages ago, and that the 50m deep North Sea once was a hilly, forrested land, which is still sinking

    Jorgen Faxholm Mob. 07981 499059

  9. David V permalink
    January 29, 2021 8:00 pm

    You shoul note that the Telegraph article cunningly says nothing about change…

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      January 29, 2021 8:20 pm

      Neat! But it’s not the effect of “climate” either. It’s the effect of weather, of sea acting on vulnerable land (my understanding is that the east coast of Yorkshire will stop eroding when it reaches Beverley, where it will find rock!

      And Jorgen is right. The North Sea basin is still sinking. Blame tectonics if necessary but not climate, still less climate change,

      • Mack permalink
        January 29, 2021 8:56 pm

        Indeed Mike, the coasts of Britain are still impacted by the rising waters/erosion and rebound after the end of the last glaciation. I dare say that the Stone Age residents of Doggers Bank, or Doggerland as it was once known, 60 miles off the English coast, bewailed their carbon sins 10,500 years ago as they sank beneath the rising waters of the newly formed North Sea. A historian might know that but modern journalists don’t do history, alas.

      • David V permalink
        January 30, 2021 2:22 pm

        The immediate effect is indeed weather but since similar things have been happening for many years, probably since the last glaciation, climate would seem the more appropriate term. But why mention the climate at all? While factually true the phraseology would seem to be deliberately misleading.

  10. January 29, 2021 8:49 pm

    But climate change is the cause, the climate change that happened 10k+ years ago when the ice sheets melted.

    Glacial Till is widely distributed around the UK.

  11. Curious George permalink
    January 29, 2021 9:32 pm

    The history begins at Greta Thunberg’s birth day.

  12. Thomas Carr permalink
    January 29, 2021 9:36 pm

    Careful. The erosion seen by the bicyclist was not caused by the action of the sea but by the ponding of rainwater on saturated fields at the top of the cliff. The wash out down the cliff face is the clue. Luckily the D. Telegraph journalist could not tell the difference so missed the opportunity to latch onto exceptional rainfall occurrence etc etc. Dave Ward has got it right.

  13. Dodgy Geezer permalink
    January 29, 2021 9:47 pm

    I bet that if this Telegraph journalist wrote the truth he would not be in his job a week later…

    THAT is the problem. It’s not an issue of education. It’s an issue of fear…

  14. Sapper2 permalink
    January 30, 2021 7:42 am

    Really it should be the Editor who is at fault. Young, inexperienced and possibly poorly educated journalists need the hard knocks of those with deeper and wider factual knowledge. I shall see what letters to the Editor have to say when I get to the paper – er – webpage.

  15. Dave Cowdell permalink
    January 30, 2021 9:29 am

    I would love for this story to be picked up by the BBC who no doubt would pronounce Happisburgh to rhyme with Happys berg, to the derision of the Norfolk folk.

  16. January 30, 2021 10:00 am

    It has been known for centuries how to prevent coastal erosion. The Dutch came over in the 17th century and taught us how to do it, about the same time as they showed how to drain the fens.

    If groynes don’t work why has the UK spent millions of pounds building them? Recently Clacton to Holland Haven £36m, earlier Jaywick, Felixstowe, Southwold, the list goes on.

    Groynes are effective if they allow a build of dry sand in front of sea wall, or cliff so the sea can not attack the sea wall or cliff.

    Cliffs need two extra measures.
    Sculpting, so there is a gradual descent rather than a steep vertical drop.
    Drainage. Often cliffs fall when there is rain after a dry period. If there are different strata, sand and mud for example, water will run through the sand and the top of the mud becomes wet and slippery. There you go. I have witness a cliff fall after firemen used a lot of what to put out a fire of vegetation on a cliff.

    At Walton-on-the-Naze there is a section of the beach and cliff which has been treated as I have described. Immediately next to this is a section designated as ‘No Active Intervention’ by Environment Agency, and is (surprise surprise) falling into the sea at a rate of about 2 meters a year.

  17. 3x2 permalink
    January 30, 2021 10:39 am

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holbeck_Hall_Hotel

    Actually watched that one in real time! (showing my age now)

  18. 3x2 permalink
    January 30, 2021 10:45 am

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holbeck_Hall_Hotel

    Watched that in real time. Incredible, apart from the destruction of course.

    • 3x2 permalink
      January 30, 2021 11:02 am

      Sorry, double post.

  19. January 30, 2021 10:58 am

    Here are the changes since 1985 per Aqua Monitor. It doesn’t seem that scary to me.
    https://aqua-monitor.appspot.com/?mode=dynamic&from=1985&to=2020&view=52.827396447336675,1.5082009552902553,14z&max_doy=365

  20. dennisambler permalink
    January 30, 2021 12:35 pm

    BBC – Norfolk Fun Stuff The beach at Happisburgh

    26 December 2007

    The wooden sea defences built in the late 1950s at Happisburgh
    in North Norfolk have been failing over the last few years and
    large chunks of the sandy cliffs are regularly falling into
    the sea. Campaigners concerned about the erosion of the Norfolk
    coastline say offshore dredging is partly to blame. About 10
    million tonnes of sand and gravel are dredged off the East
    Anglian coast each year for projects like road building.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20081208054253/http://www.norfolkbroads.com:80/focus/area/happisburgh

    2002

    “Coastal defence at Happisburgh is the responsibility of North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) but long term defence works are hugely expensive which means that such money must come from central government through the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). And DEFRA has evolved a cost/benefit formula which broadly requires the value of property under threat to exceed the cost of protecting it. And that is where Happisburgh comes unstuck because much of the village is far enough back to be not yet in imminent danger.

    Even so, until recently the formula was yielding almost enough points. And there was a scheme involving a new rock groyne and granite rocks below the most threatened properties which, according to experts, including apparently DEFRA’s local office, would have done an acceptable medium term job for £700,000.

    But the funding application by NNDC in May last year got mislaid by DEFRA and by the time it was found and some queries cleared up, further storm damage had removed more property and spoilt the calculation. And then DEFRA anyway changed the rules to favour areas with flooding risk. Flooding won’t be a problem in cliff top Happisburgh.”

  21. dennisambler permalink
    January 30, 2021 12:45 pm

    2004 – “How does it feel to live in a village that may not even exist by the time 2020 rolls around?”
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/18/2020.laurabarton

    “For centuries the coast here has been steadily, silently eroding; the sedimentary rock that formed 12,000 years ago is proving no match for the might of the North Sea. In the past few years, the erosion has gathered pace and it is now moving six times faster than the experts had predicted – in just 15 years, 25 seafront homes have been lost and many more teeter on the edge. A 2001 report claimed the parish church might be likely to disappear within 20 years.

    By 2020, Happisburgh as we know it may very well not exist. The government has already written it off.”

  22. mwhite permalink
    January 30, 2021 1:35 pm

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/01/28/beetle-last-roamed-britain-4000-years-ago-could-return-due-warming/

    Warmer in the Bronze age

    https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2021/january/perfectly-preserved-ancient-beetles-uncovered.html

    “He believes oak capricorn beetles which exist today in southern and central Europe may have died out in Britain due to climate change.

    He says, ‘This is a beetle that is associated with warmer climates. Possibly it existed in Britain 4,000 years ago because the climate was warmer, and as the climate cooled and the habitats destroyed, it became extinct. Now, with global warming, there are indications that it could return to Britain in the future.”

  23. January 30, 2021 4:03 pm

    Same is happening in Sussex at Cuckmere Haven https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6711011/Why-not-view-longer-Cottages-Seven-Sisters-cliffs-vanish.html
    I stayed in one of the Coastguard cottages over 30 years ago when it was owned by a friend and still hear news of their long fight against erosion. Be very sad to see them go but seems nothing will be done.

  24. Stonyground permalink
    January 30, 2021 7:26 pm

    When I was at school in the early 1970s there was a subject called Environmental Studies. This had an entirely different meaning back in those days, it had no green crap implications, it was essentially local geography. Being located on the coast of Holderness in East Yorkshire, this meant that coastal erosion was a big part of the subject. Particularly the difference between the rate of erosion of the chalk cliffs at flamborough and the boulder clay cliffs either side. If you look at a map of the Holderness coast you can see how Flamborough sticks out due to having eroded more slowly than the clay cliffs.

    The question that comes to mind is, are these journalists really so stupid and ignorant as to not know such basic facts? Or are they fully aware and just deliberately spreading lies? If there really is a climate crisis, why is it only being promoted by ignorami and liars?

  25. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    January 30, 2021 9:43 pm

    Folks may find interesting the site on the west coast of North American with respect to coastal erosion. You can see the location in Google Earth using the search name “North Cove, WA” with ‘roads’ showing. The common nickname is Washaway Beach.
    Look at this page: http://www.washawaybeach.com/history/

    With the Galleries drop down tab there are 5 headings. There is interesting history too. Erika Langley is your host.

  26. adrian bowyer permalink
    January 31, 2021 9:35 am

    Full page article in the Eastern Daily Press yesterday re the Happisburgh erosion. The journalist, Sabrina Johnson, mentions ” climate change ” 6 times including in the title. She quotes a Mr Kerby a co- founder of the village coastal action group . “Climate change is no longer debatable ; its started and its getting stronger and stronger, bigger and bigger. We’re on the frontline of climate change there’s no doubt about that” Wonder If he really did say that! Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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