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Tuesday, January 12, 1999 Published at 13:13 GMT


Landmark UK cliff crumbles

Climate change has been blamed for soil erosion

A huge chunk of the famous cliff at Beachy Head near Eastbourne in Sussex crashed into the sea in a massive landslide.

The BBC's Richard Wilson: "The biggest rockfall in living memory"
A 200-yard section of cliff loosened by persistent rain crashed on to the beach near the lighthouse during last weekend.

The rockfall, which can be seen from three miles out to sea, has been blamed by some on climate change.

[ image:  ]
Ray Kent, a spokesman for the Environment Agency, said: "This was a massive fall, hundreds of thousands of tonnes have fallen away from the cliff face. It has caused very significant damage to Beachy Head.

"It is basically down to climate change. The level of the sea is rising so bigger waves are hitting against the cliff base, causing bigger vibrations to reverberate up the cliff.

Environment Correspondent Robert Pigott: "A section of rock has fallen away"
"This was combined with 12 days of extremely wet weather during the Christmas period. The chalk was absolutely sodden so the combination has caused the rock to fall away. Unfortunately, it could be the shape of things to come."

Freezing temperatures are believed to have expanded the water which seeped into the chalk, causing it to crumble and sheer off.

Coastguards have warned people to stay away from the edge of the cliff, a notorious suicide spot, as experts try to establish whether further falls could be expected.

Lighthouse nearer coast

Mark Roberts describes the landslide
Mark Roberts, the owner of the Belle Toute lighthouse nearby, said the fall could be seen from miles away. He said the unmanned Beachy Head lighthouse is now just eight feet from land where before there had been a channel big enough to allow through sightseeing boats.

His own lighthouse is being moved 70ft inland using a system of hydraulic lifts and rollers after a landslip last year. But he said tourists planning to visit Beachy Head should not be put off.

Peter Mitchley of the Environment Agency: "Global warming to blame"
"The likelihood of actually being on the cliff edge when a fall is occurring is probably even less remote than being hit by lightning," he told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"But there is that small chance and I think people should be aware of that but not be scared of coming to Beachy Head."

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