Life among landslides: what does nature’s kick mean for our coastline?

We recently blogged about ‘Jurassic Toast’. In this post we talk to Tony Flux, our Coastal and Marine Advisor for the South West, about the rise in coastal landslips and what the power of nature means for this changing coastline.

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Walkers are warned about the recent landslip at St Oswald’s Bay, which is owned by the Lulworth Estate

As a piece of one of Britain’s most trodden coastal paths crashed into the English Channel last week, it served as a startling reminder of the indomitable power of nature.

The plummeting of some 80 metres of Dorset cliff, just a few hundred yards between the tourist hotspots of Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, was the latest in a line of landslips to have hit England’s south coast.

While coastal erosion has always shaped our shores, carving out a wealth of geological interest along the Jurassic Coast, landslides are seemingly on the rise and experts are pointing to last year’s heavy rainfall as the trigger.

Research published this week by British Geological Survey, revealed that in the past four months there were 16 cliff falls between Bridport and Chichester, compared with 22 for the whole of 2012.

The Trust’s SW Coast and Marine Advisor, Tony Flux, said: “There’s definitely some correlation between extremes of weather and increases of landslips.

“In the last 12 months we have seen a spike in rock falls at places, such as Sidmouth, Hive Beach, Portland and at Swanage. Over at the Isle of Wight there have been slips and slumps and falls. And even when you get to Sussex and the White Cliffs there have been falls there.

“But it shouldn’t be interpreted that the world is falling apart and the south coast is being lost – that’s just not the case,” he added. “The Jurassic coast is continually renewing itself and we have had fall after fall after fall over thousands of years.

“It would be wrong to try to prevent or stop these landslips from occurring because it exposes new material, new fossils and new excitement for people.”

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The National Trust cares for around 700 miles of coastline, including a quarter of the Jurassic World Heritage Coastline and numerous coastal sites within the Cornwall and West Devon Mining World Heritage Site.

Caring for this active coastline costs the Trust more than £1,800 per kilometre every year. But we think it is worth it. And we are not alone because since 1965, when the Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign was launched, more than £20m has been raised and thousands of volunteer hours have been donated to support our coastal and conservation management work.

“We’re not in the business of trying to prevent people from exploring our beaches and coastline. We have a wonderful South West path that people can explore at no cost,” Tony said.

“But there are safety issues, so we’re going to great lengths – not just the National Trust, but in cooperation with the Coastguard agency, local authorities and all the rescue services – to educate people and thereby avoid and reduce any risk.

“For a number of years we’ve done risk assessments and we have warning signs where we think there’s a heightened risk. But it would be a crime to start building concrete walls and fencing, which would stop people from seeing the beauty of the cliffs as they are. Really it’s about common sense – which 99% of the general public have.”

A view along the coast at Birling Gap ©National Trust Images

To find out more about the National Trust’s coastal and conservation work, click here

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