East Riding coastline ‘is the fastest eroding in western Europe’

The East Riding coastline is the fastest eroding in western Europe.

Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 12:05 pm
The 85km stretch of coast which runs from Flamborough Head in the north to Spurn Point in the south is retreating by up to 4m a year on average. Picture by Simon Hulme

The 85km stretch of coast which runs from Flamborough Head in the north to Spurn Point in the south is retreating by up to 4m a year on average.

References to erosion can be found in sources dating from as far back as Roman times, almost 2,000 years ago.

But East Riding of Yorkshire Council monitoring shows some areas are receding faster than others, with the worst affected parts of the coast losing up to 6m a year.

Sign up to our daily The Scarborough News Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

One of the hardest hit is Skipsea, which has shed about 1.4m of cliffs every year on average since 1989, a total of almost 45m in all.

Council officers have helped two Skipsea homeowners relocate further inland since October last year.

The Skipsea stretch is, along with much of the East Riding coast, designated for ‘No Active Intervention’ meaning erosion will be allowed to take its course.

Rock armour and other defences will be concentrated around areas such as Withernsea and Bridlington which are popular with tourists or home to significant economic activity.

Despite the collapsing cliffs at Skipsea some still chose a life on the edge, and they have no intention of going anywhere.

Saffron Waghorm has been at the edge of the cliffs since 1992 after discovering Skipsea as an arts student in the 1980s.

Originally from south Wales, she now lives off the grid using solar energy to power her makeshift art studio where she designed the original shape for the Amy Johnson moth sculptures.

She said that far from worrying about erosion, she had made peace with it and considered it as natural as the course of life itself.

Ms Waghorm said: “I know all about the erosion, I was well aware of it when I first bought a little chalet at first after I started college.

“There was about 17 feet of garden between it and the cliff edge when I first got it, I’m on my second chalet now.

“Now I’ve settled here, it’s somewhere where I can develop my skills and focus on my arts career without having to spend lots of money.

“No one else lives here permanently, the rest of the caravans are owned by holidaymakers who come and stay for a few weeks a year.

“The Environment Agency reckon we have about 10 years left here, I don’t think we’ve even got that long.

“The erosion goes at different rates, sometimes a bit goes but during the February high tide big chunks break off.

“The telegraph pole in my garden was in the middle of the land when I first arrived, now it’s right on the edge of the cliffs.

“My studio used to be further down the garden but when the cliffs got close the council gave me an ultimatum.

“It was a Friday and they said you can keep it but only if you can get it further up the garden by Monday.

“So I got some friends round, we put it on rollers and spent the weekend hauling it up the garden, the rollers are still on it now.

“But I don’t really feel like I have anything to worry about.

“I really love it here and I accept the erosion as a part of nature, it’s just how things are supposed to be.

“I think us humans need to think more about our global footprint and the relationship we have to the world, I grow most of my own fruit and veg now.

“And here I can take everything in that’s going on around me, the sound of the waves crashing on the cliffs at night while the fire’s burning and crackling is like music.

“I think accepting the erosion is part of accepting the course of life, everything comes and goes.

“Nothing lasts forever, whether it’s us or the cliffs.”

Retired firefighter David Herfield took his chalet on about 35 years ago and it forever remains a work in progress.

Born on the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border, he now lives in Hornsea and spends time working on his holiday home as the cliffs creep closer.

The 62-year-old said the erosion was part of the appeal of buying his chalet, even if he knew it would not last.

He said: “I first came here when I was 16, I’ve lived all over the place and I wanted somewhere out in the countryside.

“I don’t really like cities so I decided I’d come back here, I came once for a walk and discovered this spot again so I bought my chalet then.

“It took me about three or four years to get planning permission to do what I wanted to do.

“I remember one of the council officers at the time said I’d get it over his dead body.

“I’m still here but I’m not sure if he’s around anymore.

“I keep debating what to do with the chalet, I have lots of different ideas about which way to take it but I think I’ll just keep it as a holiday home.

“The erosion’s a double edged sword.

“The chalet gets closer and closer to the edge year by year, but if it wasn’t for the erosion I probably wouldn’t be able to afford to live here.

“There’s only one road to the caravans and homes here so hardly anyone’s around, you couldn’t get that anywhere else and it’s the erosion which gives us that.

“The losses are about a metre a year, so I’d say I’ve got about another 10 or 20 years left here, in the meantime it’s like being in limbo.

“But it’s a lovely place, I can come here and spend some time on my own and sometimes family come and stay with me too.

“I could sell the chalet I suppose, but I wouldn’t get very much for it.

“But as it’s an ongoing project I can experiment with all sorts, using solar panels for power and things like that.

“Most people who live close to the cliffs just get planning permission for foundations for their caravans but otherwise they don’t spend much money on their plots.

“There’s no point in them spending lots of money on them if they’re going to be in the sea in a few years.

“It’s a race between me and the house, either I’ll pop my clogs first or it’ll fall in the sea.”

Denise Waterhouse, 55, moved to Skipsea from Bradford for her retirement three years ago.

Mrs Waterhouse said she was less concerned about erosion as she lives further inland but knew that in the decades to come it could be her home’s turn to go.

She said: “Our family used to have a caravan here, we fell in love with the east coast and we’ve been coming for years.

“We were aware of the coastal erosion before we moved but we’re just far enough away for it not to concern us, it’s just one of those things.

“I’ve heard the sea’s expected to reach here in the next 30 to 50 years.

“It might sound a bit selfish but I know it won’t reach here in my lifetime so it doesn’t really worry me, I can’t see the house going before me.

“But I imagine it will be a problem for the next generation.

“In the three years we’ve been here a few sections of the cliffs have gone.

“What happens is first you’ll see a crack, then it just gets bigger and bigger until it snaps off and falls in the sea.

“Once such a big part of the cliff fell off that it took a stretch of a public footpath with it.

“There was a memorial that someone made on the edge, for someone who must have fallen and died I think.

“The erosion’s taken that as well.

“At some parts of the cliffs you now need a rope to climb down to the beach.

“We have a village coffee morning and it often gets brought up there so it does worry people in the village.

“And it’s not just the residents, businesses like some of the holiday parks and farmers who own land down there are threatened by it as well.

“The further down to the coast you go the more people worry, my next door neighbour used to live close to the cliffs but he had to move further inland.

“People here look at places like Bridlington and Withernsea which have defences they wonder why we don’t.”

Article by Joe Gerrard (Local Democracy Reporting Service)