A view of Orford Ness, one of the areas affected by an unusually powerful storm season. alexbrn(CC BY 2.0)
All around the English coast, erosion scenarios drawn up for 2044 were realized this winter. “Everybody thought this would hit us in 20 or 30 years’ time,” said a site manager, “but it’s come now.”
During an early February of rare, high-power storms, natural history writer Patrick Barkham reports at The Guardian:
Denial is a natural human reaction, and it is writ large in the government’s response to this week’s water torture. David Cameron pledged £100m for repairs and maintenance of our battered coastline and the stricken Somerset Levels. Eric Pickles added £30m and criticised Lord Smith, chair of the Environment Agency, for suggesting we would have to choose between “front rooms or farmland”. Some political interventions are as surreal as the storm damage. “We have got to force the sea back and keep it out,” cried one Tory backbencher, “not retreat from it like we have been for years.”
The British Isles are more edge than middle. We are never more than 75 miles from the sea. It protected us from invasion, it gave us an empire and then it became fun. Unlike those flood gurus, the Dutch, whose nation depends on protecting just 451kms of coast, the UK has an indefensible 17,381km (far more than Brazil or India). Despite this, we have fortified it ferociously: 45.6% of England’s coast is buttressed with sea walls, groynes or artificial beaches, compared with just 7.6% of Ireland. Most erosion is on a geological timescale (the 10,000-year-old east coast is regarded as recent, and is still adjusting to current sea levels) but scientists believe it is likely to worsen. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year increased its projections for sea level rise. Some climate scientists predict a global rise of between 0.7 and 1.2 metres by 2100. Nearly a million homes in England and Wales could be at significant risk of tidal flooding by the 2080s.