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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February, 2005, 11:25 GMT
The day after Kyoto
By Paula Dear
BBC News, Norfolk

Crane
Re-siting the sea defences on Winterton beach
If you could actually witness the effects of climate change, day in day out, in your community, would it make you more vigilant about doing your bit to save the planet?

A trip to the Norfolk coastal village of Winterton-on-Sea, on the day the Kyoto Protocol came into force, gave an insight into how those on the front-line view the issue. Here the locals are staring some of the most challenging global environmental problems in the face.

The shoreline is falling away in visible chunks and the flood risk to this low-lying area is ever-present. While there is some debate whether global warming is the source of all of Winterton's troubles, it is crumbling into the sea at an alarming rate amid rising sea levels and stormier weather.

Only this week there were flood warnings in the area, and on Sunday night high tides and strong winds forced five of the village's concrete sea defences to teeter on the edge of the low sand cliff.

So was it business and 4x4s as usual on Wednesday?

Track the coastal erosion

At the beachside car park clusters of onlookers were braving the biting damp winds to gawp as diggers pulled the heavy blocks from their precarious positions down on to the beach. In the distance, a line of off-shore wind turbines generating green energy, could be glimpsed whirring away through the drizzle.

Within a few hours the blocks were realigned on the sand in the form of a rudimentary sea wall. Back on the cliff edge, workmen hung plastic netting between poles to keep curious visitors from stepping over and taking more of the precious land with them.

Just a few metres inland is a beach front cafe which, if current trends persist, could be claimed by the sea before the beginning of the next decade.

Behind the counter, amid a cloud of steam, are Pauline Green and her husband Tony, who rent the place from friends. But for how much longer?

Pauline Green
Pauline fears her butty-making days could be numbered
"We can't really lease it long-term. It's inevitable it's going to go at some point," says Pauline, 43, who has lived in Norfolk for 25 years. She's never heard of the Kyoto Protocol, but the issue of global warming is all too familiar.

"I often wonder whether, in a few years time, there is going to be a Norfolk. I find it a bit frightening, not just because the erosion could destroy our living, but to see how things are going in the world."

They feel lucky that at least their home, in the nearby village of Martham, is in a relatively high location, she says.

Living in an area so tangibly affected by climate change makes her more aware of the issues, she adds. The local onshore and off-shore wind farms - a distinctive part of the area's landscape are, in her opinion, "brilliant" because of their environmental friendliness.

However, although most of those interviewed felt positively towards the wind farms, none had consciously switched to renewable energy suppliers at home.

We have to use our water to wash out the bottles, then drive to the bottle bank
Jan Stubbs

Pauline admits to using the tumble drier frequently - "because we're at work so much" - and although they drive a 4x4 Freelander, it's diesel, she adds.

Wheelie bins recently have been issued for recycling, so they now pay more attention to what they throw away, she says. But the council doesn't accept bottles and glass in the bins, say Jan and Mike Stubbs, 54 and 58, who are taking a brisk walk along the shore.

"We have to use our water to wash out the bottles, then drive to the bottle bank," says Jan, who is less impressed with Great Yarmouth council's environmental efforts.

"Generally I feel quite disillusioned by the whole environmental business. I wonder whether the Kyoto agreement is just pie in the sky," says Mike, who admits that his petrol car is not the most planet friendly.

There has been, and remains, some scepticism about whether there really is a threat to the area, says Alan McMurchie of local group Coastwatch, which looks after safety on the treacherous coastline. Many locals woke up to the situation when Coastwatch's much-loved watch tower fell victim to erosion and disappeared into the sea in 2003.

Cafe
The sea is creeping up on Pauline Green's beach-front cafe

"The loss of that station has been an enormous catalyst," he says, but when it comes to turning back the tide people realise they can "only do what they can do".

As Alan explains his prediction that the cafe could disappear by 2009, local man Robin Chenery, 67, chips in with the view that no one can really say what will happen in the future. He is objecting to long term plans for the century ahead, currently being consulted on, that propose letting the defences go and allowing the sea do its natural work, with the potential loss of a number of villages in the area.

"I'm not at all convinced the sea will continue to rise at this rate, and I'm sceptical about making decisions for the next 100 years when we don't know what'll happen next year."


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