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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 12:00 GMT
White cliffs fall into sea
The section of cliff affected by the rockfall
Scientists warn global warming will bring further rockfalls
A huge section of the white cliffs of Dover has fallen into the English Channel following two landslides.

About 100,000 tonnes of the famous coastline sheared off, but miraculously no-one was injured in the fall.

The landslides - one on Wednesday evening and another on Thursday - took away a footpath used by thousands of ramblers and dog walkers, but the weather was so atrocious that no-one was on it at the time.

A Dover coastguard said: "It would have been fatal if you were walking along there as all that chalk fell 300 feet."

Climate change will add extra pressure on the process that made this landslide and bring about more rapid erosion

Dr Frances MacGuire, FoE

A 160-metre section of the cliffs between Dover and St Margaret's Bay has disappeared into the English Channel, prompting fears that the erosion of this part of the English coastline is accelerating.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) climate campaigner Dr Frances MacGuire said more rockfalls could be expected due to changing weather patterns.

"Climate change will add extra pressure on the process that made this landslide and bring about more rapid erosion," she said.

"It is due to the higher sea levels and heavier rainfall and we can expect this problem with chalk to increase as well."

The two landslides were caused by rain being absorbed by the cliff, which then turned to ice during the recent cold snap and expanded causing the rock to weaken.

A coastguard spokesman said: "In all my time here, going on for 20 years, I have never witnessed such a series of landslides.

"We've had so much rain and once it gets into the rocks and it turns colder it all goes wallop."

Warning signs

The National Trust, which owns part of the cliff, has been inspecting the damage, although they say it has not changed the shape of the map significantly.

Its countryside manager, Steve Judd, said: "For the past few weeks we have been putting signs up advising people to stay 50 metres away from the cliff edge, as, like avalanches, rockfalls can happen at any time.

"There are increased risks this winter.

"Once the current period of high risk has reduced to a more normal level the signs will be removed."

Landslide in North Wales
Tragedy in North Wales

Although this rockfall was "exceptional" coastguards said there are regular landslides, with two smaller incidents last week and further slips last summer.

The footpath that disappeared in the fall had been trodden out by walkers, but the official public footpath, marked out by Kent County Council, is less than 15 metres from the edge.

The local authority has made it a priority to improve the safety of the footpath, which has to be maintained as a public right of way.

Recent landslides in other parts of the country have resulted in casualties.

Last month, a woman died and her husband was seriously injured when a landslide swept their car down a seaside cliff in North Wales.

And last December, walkers had to run for their lives when a-mile-and-a-half section of cliffs collapsed at Charmouth in Dorset.

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