Birling Gap in top 10 ‘at risk’ places

At the mercy of the waves: Birling Gap, where the National Trust may have to move its visitor centre
At the mercy of the waves: Birling Gap, where the National Trust may have to move its visitor centre

Birling Gap is one of the most threatened areas in England and Wales for coastal erosion, according to a report by the National Trust.

The charity – which is responsible for the popular beauty spot – claims that in the last few months, more than seven years’ worth of cliff face has been lost due to winter storms and rising sea levels.

Part of the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, Birling Gap is ninth in the list of ‘at risk’ coastlines in England and Wales according to the ‘Shifting Shores’ report due to be published in November.

The cottages and visitor centre could be in danger of falling into the sea, and the April ‘Shifting Shores’ report outlines a robust ‘rolling back’ process to save them.

A National Trust spokesman said, “From December 2013 to February 2014 the south coast was hit really hard, and we don’t know when the next big winter storm will be.”

The Trust will be working with other agencies to make sure there is a clear vision on how they will respond to the changes in the coastline, and the National Trust has said it may have to move its visitor centre into a “more practical place”.

“It is about having a clear strategy for coastal change and how it will effect the community as a whole,” the spokesman added.

The report’s findings state that 700 properties across the UK could be lost in the next 20 years and as many as 2,000 by 2065.

Beaches, cliffs, and coastal buildings all over the country, from Northumberland to the Isle of Wight, are listed in the report as the most at risk.

Jo Taylor, a marketing consultant from Surrey who regularly goes walking, believes something must be done to save Birling Gap and other beauty spots from disappearing into the sea.

“It’s beautiful and you want people to see it but because of the erosion it’s a difficult situation,” she said.

“There’s nothing man made there and people should be able to enjoy it but if visitors are causing erosion by walking on the paths and cliff tops then it’s got to be changed.”

Around 1,100 miles of coastline are threatened by the erosion and the Trust estimates 380 miles of coastline they own is at risk or has already suffered severe damage.

The charity believes the best way to combat this is to ‘roll back’ and build a flexible visitor centre and café designed to be moved again in later years.

National Trust coast and marine advisor, Phil Dyke, said, “This must surely be more cost effective in the long run and more desirable in terms of maintaining the coast’s natural beauty.”

The report states that erosion could cause a tenth of its coastline to retreat naturally by up to 200 metres inland over the next 100 years, with five per cent of it likely to move back even more.

“It does mean making some tough choices, but we can’t just store up the problems for future generations to deal with,” Mr Dyke added.

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