UK - Frustration in village to be abandoned to the sea
FAIRBOURNE, Wales — Like many others who came to Fairbourne, Stuart Eves decided the coastal village in northern Wales would be home for life when he moved here 26 years ago. He fell in love with the peaceful, slow pace of small village life in this community of about 700 residents, nestled between the rugged mountains and the Irish Sea.
“I wanted somewhere my children can have the same upbringing as I had, so they can run free,” said Eves, 72, who built a caravan park in the village that he still runs with his son. “You’ve got the sea, you’ve got the mountains. It’s just a stunning place to live.”
That changed suddenly in 2014, when authorities identified Fairbourne as the first coastal community in the U.K. to be at high risk of flooding due to climate change.
Predicting faster sea level rises and more frequent and extreme storms due to global warming, the government said it could only afford to keep defending the village for another 40 years. Officials said that by 2054, it would no longer be safe or sustainable to live in Fairbourne.
Authorities have been working with villagers on the process of so-called “managed realignment” — essentially, to move them away and abandon the village to the encroaching sea.
Overnight, house prices in Fairbourne nosedived. Residents were dubbed the U.K.’s first “climate refugees.” Many were left shocked and angry by national headlines declaring their whole village would be “decommissioned.” Seven years on, most of their questions about their future remain unanswered.
“They’ve doomed the village, and now they’ve got to try to rehome the people. That’s 450 houses,” said Eves, who serves as chair of the local community council. “If they want us out by 2054, then they’ve got to have the accommodation to put us in.”
No one here wants to leave. While many are retirees, there are also young families raising a next generation. Locals speak proudly of their tight-knit community. And although the village center only consists of a grocer’s, a fish and chip shop and a couple of restaurants, residents say the pebbly beach and a small steam train draw bustling crowds in the summer.
Natural Resources Wales, the government-sponsored organization responsible for the sea defenses in Fairbourne, said the village is particularly vulnerable because it faces multiple flooding risks. Built in the 1850s on a low-lying saltmarsh, Fairbourne already lies beneath sea level at high spring tide. During storms, the tidal level is more than 5 feet above the level of the village.
Scientists say U.K. sea levels have risen about 10 centimeters (4 inches) in the past century. Depending on greenhouse gas emissions and actions that governments take, the predicted rise is 70 centimeters to 1 meter by 2100.