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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 15:25 GMT
South: Coastal erosion
Chrissy Sturt
Chrissy Sturt
Politics Show South

From the shimmering White Cliffs of Dover to the tropical stretch of sand at Studland in Dorset, the South boasts a stunning coastline.

What is at risk from erosion?
25,000 homes
3,000 commercial properties
2,000 ha of agricultural land
3.2bn value in property

But the South's cliffs and beaches are at risk like never before.

Coastal defences are likely to be severely battered in the next 50 years.

Tell us if your property is in danger

Have your say

What can the government do? The choice is stark;

  • Either to opt for the hard engineering route of higher, stronger walls
  • or allow nature to take its course.

If nothing is done to cut carbon emissions
Coastal erosion will increase nine fold
Coastal defences will be battered by more frequent storms
Climate change will raise sea levels
By 2080 floods could be up to 30 times present levels

The latter approach is concealed within the reigning catchphrase "managed realignment".

At its most extreme, it means sacrificing large areas of farmland, downland and cliff to the surging seas.

It is certainly a policy which has caught on in the conservation world.

Rising sea levels are swamping marine habitats found in front of sea defences.

Seven sisters, Sussex coast
Sacrifice downland and cliff to the surging seas?

Wildlife experts argue that removing barriers and walls will allow wildlife and habitat to migrate landwards and then regenerate.

Tim Collins, head of English Nature's coastal group, explains;

Managed realignment is the best answer for a sustainable coastline.

Within the conservation community we believe it has to happen, the question is where.

The taxpayer would save money if we stopped propping up uneconomic sea defences.

Lisa Browning, marine officer at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, makes the point forcefully;

We want the coastline to do its own thing, not be defended by manmade means. It needs to be dynamic and able to move around.

Again this sentiment is echoed by Peter Midgley of the Environment Agency in Sussex;

We should be trying to work with nature where we can. The coastline isn't fixed and as sea levels rise it will cost us more to defend.

Managed Realignment is also the approach favoured by the RSPB.

But there is a major sticking point in the South, much of the coast is simply too over developed to allow for retreat.

Nowhere to go?

Roads, houses and infrastructure mean there is nowhere to retreat to.

Politics Show South talks to residents from two East Sussex coastal communities in the headlines; Fairlight Cove and Cuckmere Haven.

Frances Alexander bought her home in Rockmead Road for the amazing views, but now her garden is dropping into the sea. Mrs Alexander said;

I have no idea how much longer we will be in this house.

I want to see as much as possible done to protect us. We are living here. We didn't expect this.

Residents have formed the Fairlight Cove Preservation Trust to pressure the local council into helping and lobby Defra for grant aid to shore up the cliff.

In Cuckmere Haven feelings are running just as high. Here the residents are calling for a public inquiry to fight the Environment Agency's planned managed retreat.

The Agency believes it is uneconomic to sustain the Victorian defences and wants the sea to breach the wall and create a wildlife haven.

Resident Alan Edgar claims that if the sea seeps into the valley, many cottages will crumble into the waters within ten years.

This is the most famous place in Sussex. It is the signature of Sussex. This plan should not go ahead.

Let us know what you think. That is the Politics Show Sunday 08 February at Midday.

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