International
The coast near Bacton, Norfolk. Image: Getty.

United Kingdom: The plan to save Norfolk coast will only put off the inevitable

This summer, the UK’s Norfolk coast underwent a transformation that has only been seen once in the world before.

A giant sandscaping scheme saw 1.8m cubic metres of sand added to the area’s beaches to reshape them as a way of reducing coastal erosion. This is an amazing engineering defence, designed to increase the resilience of the adjacent cliffs to erosion. But it may have a sting in its tail in a generation’s time.

Bacton cliff was created from a mixture of debris left by large ice sheets thousands of years ago. Unprotected, the cliffs erode at a rate of a metre a year. The area’s current sea defences including groynes – barriers that stretch out from the shore to limit the movement of sediment – slow down the erosion, but don’t stop it. This means that during extreme storm events, such as in 2013-2014, some five metres to ten metres of cliff can be lost overnight.

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The council’s Shoreline Management Plan includes options to try to take further measures to hold the current coastline, do nothing, or realign the coastline landwards of its present position by removing defences as they reach the end of their life. The long-term plan for Bacton and nearby villages in 40 to 90 years is for coastal retreat. This means defunct defences will be removed and the coast will be allowed to erode naturally. Part of the coastal road and nearby homes will be lost to the sea.
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