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In what ways has the shoreline of the North Norfolk Coast changed over the past century and what challenges does this present for long term shoreline management?

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In what ways has the shoreline of the North Norfolk Coast changed over the past century and
what challenges does this present for long term shoreline management?

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In what ways has the shoreline of the North Norfolk Coast changed over the past century and
what challenges does this present for long term shoreline management?




1.0 Introduction
The North Norfolk coast is a coastline which has been under significant threat from the effects of the
sea for generations. The effects of coastal erosion have led to a gradual deterioration of the cliffs
and headlands, threatening the future of local properties and settlements which are gradually
nearing the sea. Residents have campaigned since the mid-1990s for solutions to prevent the rates
of land lost to the sea and avoid the loss of their homes (BBC, 2003). There are therefore significant
challenges facing local communities, local authorities and coastline management organisations in
ensuring the coastline’s future.

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In what ways has the shoreline of the North Norfolk Coast changed over the past century and
what challenges does this present for long term shoreline management?
1.0 Introduction
The North Norfolk coast is a coastline which has been under significant threat from the effects of the
sea for generations. The effects of coastal erosion have led to a gradual deterioration of the cliffs
and headlands, threatening the future of local properties and settlements which are gradually
nearing the sea. Residents have campaigned since the mid-1990s for solutions to prevent the rates
of land lost to the sea and avoid the loss of their homes (BBC, 2003). There are therefore significant
challenges facing local communities, local authorities and coastline management organisations in
ensuring the coastline’s future.
2.0 The coastline and erosion
Source: Google Maps
Figure 1. Source: European marine
site risk review (2010)
The coastline comprises stretches of towering cliffs, the tallest being 75m in height, which are
geomorphologically diverse. They consist of varying rock types including soft rocks such as chalk, and
also a mix of silts, sands, clays and gravels (Brennan, 2007; North Norfolk District Council, 2012). As
well as cliffs, there are also low lying saltmarshes, beaches and sand-dunes (NNDC, 2007).
The North Norfolk coastline stretches for over forty miles
along Britain’s east shores, stretching from the west in
Holkham to Horsey in the south-east (North Norfolk District
Council, 2008; North Norfolk District Council, 2012)
2
Erosion has always been a problem for the North Norfolk coast, being exposed to the brunt of the
North Sea, and suffering due to its abundance of soft friable rock geology (Environment Agency,
2011; Natural England). The Environment Agency (2011) states that this stretch of coastline has
been eroding as far as documented history goes back and for 5000 years at its present rate
according to British Geological Survey (2012). Because of the soft rock nature of some stretches,
erosion has been aggressive whereby the coastline has been consistently retreating at varying rates
of around one-to-three metres annually (Brenann, 2007).
Figure 2. Source: North Norfolk District Council,
An introduction to the North Norfolk Coastal Environment
Figure 3. Source: Poulton et al (2006)
The erosion of the coastline takes place through an undercutting of heterogeneous soft rock, most
severely at the base of the cliffs, further influenced by the high water content within clay formations
of the cliffs, increasing instability and influencing landslides (NNDC, 2012; Geocases.co.uk).
Therefore the deterioration of the coast can be attributed to a combination of wave action, tidal
currents and drainage of the cliff (Frew, 2009). A prominent example of this is at Hunstanton, where
the cliffs have been retreating under these natural processes, to devastating effect for some time
(Brennan, 2007).
Research carried out
between 1966 and
1985 demonstrate
this rate of erosion
along certain points
along the coast
Over 100m of land has been lost to the sea at
Happisburgh in just 12 years, emphasising and
justifying the several metres per year which is
averaging across the coast (Poulton et al. (2006)
3
Figure 4. Source: www.cgz.e2bn.net
Because of these natural processes, the coastline of North Norfolk has been significantly altered in
appearance and shape where there is a scattering of bays and headlands in staggered patterns, and
deep cuts in the land where the sea has significantly eroded large chunks cliff (Frew and Guest,
2009). Unfortunately for many residents living near the coast, their properties are now significantly
threatened and will be lost if left to the elements (See Figure 5). Geograph.org also highlights that
these processes are active and that new erosion is visible in abundance, suggesting the continuing
loss of land to the sea.
3.0 Management of coastal erosion
North Norfolk District Council has emphasised the importance of ensuring the future of its coastline
(NNDC, 2008) with consideration historical records that have shown that villages have been lost in
their entirety to the forces of the sea through rapid erosion (Environment Agency, 2011).
Fundamentally, the North Norfolk coast has an array of established coastal communities which are
essential to the local economy through tourism, with the presence of important holiday destinations
such as Cromer, Sheringham and Well-next-the-Sea (NNDC, 2012). These areas also carry
environmental importance through the abundance of unique landscapes and coastal habitats that
require careful conservation (NNDC, 2009, Geocases.co.uk).
Source: www.edp24.co.uk/news
Figure 5. Source:
http://www.bgs.ac.uk/landslides/happisburgh.html
Of even more national importance is the coastal location
of the Bacton Natural Gas Terminal which is integral to
Britain’s supply of North Sea gas (Geocases.co.uk)
4
With these issues in mind and with evidence of the modern coastline continuing to retreat at an
alarming rate, it is imperative that the coastline is managed effectively. Brennan (2007) highlights
how there is a ‘human desire’ to be able to resist and control the natural processes which are taking
place here, but it is clear that there exist many challenges which must be overcome before this can
be achieved. It could be taken therefore that the primary challenge forms the overall protection of
people and the future of the coastline itself as we know it.
NNDC (2007, p.2) sets out a number of approaches or scenarios that can be adopted to address
these issues of erosion:
Furthermore, Geocases.co.uk exemplifies the significant depth which is required to establish a
successful set of management for the coastline through consideration of beaches, infrastructure,
people, pollution, dredging and other interrelated activities. Finding a workable balance between all
of these activities could therefore be considered as a challenge to the process of management.
The threat of erosion is accompanied by the risk of flooding which has been commonplace in the
past (Brennan, 2007) and can be intensified via the processes of erosion through loss of protection
from the cliffs. This is intensified via the growing problem of global warming and rises in sea level,
and therefore creates even more challenges for comprehensive protection ( Environment Agency,
2011).
Fortunately, the district council, Environment Agency and DEFRA have come together to implement
management plans, known as Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) whereby each organisation takes
responsibility for certain elements, such as the council for constructing and maintaining sea
defences and Environment Agency for flood protection (NNDC, 2007; NNDC, 2009a). This was first
implemented in 1996 (NNDC, 2008) and have developed to allow for ‘short-term, medium-term and
long-term’ sustainable management criteria that can be revisited with the changing nature of
erosion and sea level rises which are taking place (Environment Agency, 2011) (See Appendix). This
in itself poses another challenge, whereby it is difficult to predict the exact future of the changing
coastline based on changes in climatic environment or sea level change, therefore monitoring will be
essential (NNDC, 2007).
Arguably the biggest challenge facing the council in particular is the ability to be able to fund the
cost of protection and continuing maintenance. Protection can be very costly and with such a large
stretch of coastline becomes unfeasible in part (NNDC, 2008).
1. Do nothing and allow erosion to continue
2. Control the amount of erosion by engineering
techniques, but retreat from the existing line of the coast
3. Prevent further erosion by maintaining existing or
providing new defences on the existing line of the coast
4. Prevent further erosion by providing new defences in
front of the existing line of the coast
5
Source: NNDC, 2008 Source: NNDC, 2007
4.0 Conclusion
The fact that no point within the district area is more that fifteen miles from the sea (NNDC, 2008)
suggests the core of the challenge and the large responsibility that that management will face in the
coming years. NNDC have even indicated through Policy EN 12 that there is future potential for
relocation and replacement of community facilities/businesses which develops a massive
management challenge for the future and suggests that not everywhere can be guaranteed safety
(NNDC, 2008a). Finally, there is also a question of how nature conservation of habitats and local
species will be considered alongside coastal protection, with concerns from some corners that
protection may cause more damage that allowing natural erosion (Institution of Civil Engineers,
2003). The biggest challenge may in fact be the balancing of all of these issues in a timely and
focussed manner, deciphering what may or may not have to be sacrificed.
In 2001 for example, the total value of defences to be put in place was
placed at £80-90million (Geocases.co.uk; NNDC, 2008), with an annual
council budget of around £500,000 being available and defenced such
as sea walls costing £5000 per metre (Geocases.co.uk).
6
References
BBC News Website (2003) Coastline residents send out an SOS
Brennan, R. (2007) The North Norfolk Coastline: A Complex Legacy, Coastal Management, 35:587–
599, 2007, School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth
British Geological Survey (2012), Coastal erosion at Happisburgh, Norfolk, [Online]:
http://www.bgs.ac.uk/landslides/happisburgh.html, Accessed: April 2012
Environment Agency (2011) Long term planning: North Norfolk Coast, [Online]:
http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/planning/108980.aspx, Accessed: April 2012
Frew, P. (2009) Document 1 – An Introduction to the North Norfolk Coastal Environment, Coastal
Management Unit NNDC 2009
Frew, P. and Guest, S. (2009) Document 8 – Clifton Way, Overstrand Coast Protection Scheme,
Geotechnical and other aspects of the Overstrand coast protection scheme, Rendel Geotechnics,
Coastal Management Unit NNDC 2009
Geocases.co.uk, Coastal defences in Norfolk, [Online]:
http://www.geocases1.co.uk/printable/Coastal%20defences%20in%20Norfolk.htm, Accessed: April
2012
Institution of Civil Engineers (2003) International Conference on Coastal Management 2003,
Proceedings of the International Conference on Coastal Management, Organised by the Institution
of Civil Engineers and Held in Brighton, UK, on 15-17 October 2003
Natural England, North Norfolk Coast, Character Area 77, [Online]:
www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/jca77_tcm6-5377.pdf, Accessed: April 2012
North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) (2012) Coastal Management Overview, [Online]:
www.northnorfolk.org, Accessed: April 2012
NNDC (2007) Coastal Planning in North Norfolk, Information Sheet no.1 (May 2007)
NNDC (2008) Communities at Risk: Planning for a future with a changing coastline, Coastal
Management Information Pack September 2008
NNDC (2008a) Core Strategy [2008] Consultation Portal, [Online]: http://consult.northnorfolk.gov.uk/portal/planning/cs/adopted_cs?pointId=10#task_278498_ID_185,
Accessed: April
2012
NNDC (2009a) Development and Coastal Erosion, North Norfolk Development Control Guidance
NNDC (2009) Managing the coast, North Norfolk Shoreline Management Plan, Draft SMP – July 2009
Poulton, C.V.L. Lee, J.R. Hobbs, P.R.N. Jones, L. and Hall, M. (2006) Monitoring Coastal Erosion using
Terrestrial Laser Scanning, Preliminary Investigation into Monitoring Coastal Erosion using Terrestrial
7
Laser Scanning: Case Study at Happisburgh, Norfolk, British Geological Survey, Bull. geol. Soc. Norfolk
(for 2006) 56, 45-64.

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