Action taken to save clifftop café from sea

A graphic demonstrating how much the cliff edge at Birling Gap has changed from January 2 to February 10.
A graphic demonstrating how much the cliff edge at Birling Gap has changed from January 2 to February 10.

The Birling Gap café has been forced to demolish its sun lounge and ice-cream parlour after numerous cliff falls have left the building perilously close to the edge.

As seemingly endless rain and winds of up to 90 miles per hour have lashed the Sussex coast for the past few months, parts of the cliff have tumbled into the water below, receding the edge at faster than the average rate of one metre a year.

The weekend’s rock falls left the sun lounge and ice-cream parlour at Birling Gap café just a couple of metres from the cliff edge and so, for fear of further damage, site managers are taking action and knocking down the conservatory themselves.

Jane Cecil, general manager for South Downs, said, “Parts of the cliff face at Birling Gap were affected by the recent adverse weather. This included a number of major cliff falls due to heavy rain and high winds. As a precaution, the steps to the beach remain closed while Wealden District Council help us to assess the situation.

“The site has been made safe in the meantime, with the main cliff top fence being moved back by more than three metres.

“Unfortunately, after further cliff falls at the weekend, to conserve the rest of the building, we will shortly be taking down the sun lounge and ice-cream parlour.

“If we act now, we will ensure that people will still be able to enjoy fish and chips at Birling Gap for many more years to come.”

Builders have been at the National Trust site during the week to begin demolition, which should be relatively easy as the buildings are specially designed to be dismantled quickly. The boat house, which sits next to the café, is also to be knocked down. Concerns also surround the coastguard houses. Currently, only one house is occupied.

Historic pictures on view at the café show just how far the cliff has eroded in recent years, with a snapshot taken in the 1970s displaying a lovely garden in front of the building, which was then used as a hotel.

A leaflet at the site’s shop reads, “As some of the buildings have become unsafe, they have been demolished to prevent bricks and concrete falling to the beach. Sadly, more will be lost in the future. Change here is inevitable, and adapting to it rather than trying to hold back the tide is the best way to secure a sustainable future for people and wildlife.”