Dozens of families on the east coast of England could be forced to abandon their homes as coastal erosion threatens to doom their properties to the sea.
A recent report by climate group One Home estimated that coastal homes in England worth a total of £584million could be lost to cliff collapses by 2100.
The report accounts for 2,218 homes across 21 coastal communities that have been brought closer to crumbling cliffs over the years.
Some homeowners expressed nervousness about having children stay overnight while others say they are too scared to cut the grass holding together the narrow stretches of turf along the cliff edges.
Grenadier Guard Lance Martin, 65, is among the householders in Hemsby, Norfolk who may be forced to move homes.
Grenadier Guard Lance Martin, 65, fears for his property on the Norfolk Coast. Homeowners have said they’re afraid to cut the grass along the cliff edges
A recent report by climate group One Home estimated that coastal homes worth £584million could fall into the sea by 2100 as a result of coastal erosion
Mr Martin is living in the last house left on his road, The Marrams, in a one-bed detached house where the cliff edge hugs his back patio fence.
His 11 neighbours have all been forced to abandon their properties to the sea since 2017, when Mr Martin moved in.
He only managed to remain on his property by dragging it 10.5 metres back from the cliff edge with a tractor after the 2018 Beast from the East storm ate away metres of ground from under his kitchen.
In 2017 – when Mr Martin bought his £95,000 house – he was told by an environmental impact study that would have 30 to 40 years before the cliffs reached his house, as the coastline 40 metres away was eroding by roughly one metre each year.
Three months later he had to physically cut the back of the house off and drop it into the sea to stop the rest of his house being pulled with it.
Half of Mr Martin’s house has already been lost to the sea. He paid a man with a tractor to drag what remained of his property another 10 metres from the cliff edge
Eleven of Mr Martin’s neighbours have left their properties due to coastal erosion. Mr Martin remains in his one-bedroom house, which he moved into
‘I was standing in the kitchen and heard a great big horrendous crack. I looked down and saw the sea underneath my feet,’ Mr Martin explained.
He has watched his neighbours move away one by one as their houses were demolished by the council after being deemed a public health and safety risk.
He said: ‘It was horrible, some went slowly, some very quickly. I got the council to delay demolishing my house because I was determined to save my property.’
He was given two days to ‘pull his house back’ from the cliff. He hired a man with a tractor and a winch and together they felled two telegraph poles at the front and back of the property and pulled the house back by nearly 11 metres.
Coastal erosion on the Norfolk coast is putting more houses at risk. Eleven homeowners on The Marrams street have already abandoned their properties
Nothing is safe from the falling cliffs, including houses, fences and other infrastructure. Some measures, such as using rocks to protect remaining cliff faces or building sea walls, can slow erosion
Ian Brennan is Chairman of the Save Hemsby Coastline charity, which has spent 10 years campaigning in an effort to convince Great Yarmouth Borough Council to take the erosion of the village seriously.
The 63-year-old retired telecoms manager lives further into the village but cares deeply about the problems his friends and neighbours face.
According to Mr Brennan, 90 homes are at risk of being lost in Hemsby over the next 25 years.
The final property that remains on The Marrams road in Norfolk as all the other houses have been abandoned to the sea by their owners
Residents are currently arguing for a rock berm, which is a ridge constructed of compacted soil, gravel, rocks, and stones to direct water away from a particular area
Cliff warnings are common in areas with significant coastal erosion as rock falls can be very dangerous if people are walking on the beach below
The beach in Norfolk on the east coast of England, which has been encroaching on properties much more quickly than surveyors believed that it would
‘The whole thing is a political decision,’ Mr Brennan claimed.
‘In Holland, most of the country should be in the water but they don’t have this problem because they spend the money that needs to be spent to protect the country.
‘I’m trying to persuade people that Hemsby is worth saving.’
He is currently waiting on planning permission for a multi-million-pound rock berm to be put in place to slow the erosion of the coast.
A rock berm is a ridge constructed of compacted soil, gravel, rocks, and stones to direct water away from a particular area. Mr Brennan is hoping to raise money to fund the project.
In 2017 – when Mr Martin bought his £95,000 house – he was told by an environmental impact study that would have 30 to 40 years before the cliffs reached his house. But just three months later, half of his house was lost to the water
Erosion can cause significant property damage as it removes the foundations supporting buildings and other structures near the cliff edge
Lance Martin’s home is the only one on his street that remains, as all of his neighbours abandoned their properties to the sea
He said: ‘We can’t stop global warming, we can’t stop coastal erosion, but we can slow it down. We’re trying to buy time so people like Lance don’t have to worry.
‘Every time a storm hits the residents are nervous that they may have to walk away from their house with nothing but a carrier bag.
‘That’s the mental health impact we’re talking about. These people deserve to get a good night’s sleep – a rock berm will buy us 25 years. That’s enough time for people to decide what they want to do with their house and with their lives.’
Thirteen miles up the coast is Happisburgh, Norfolk, a village that has also experienced the loss of more than an entire street and 34 homes in the last 20 years.
Coastal erosion is caused by the repeated action of waves against the cliffs. Action can be taken to slow down coastal erosion, including building sea walls
Retired teacher Bryony Nierop-Reading, 77, lost her bungalow to erosion during a huge tidal surge in 2013. She had moved into a caravan further inland that night because she felt so unsafe in her home.
The next morning, she found the bungalow was still standing, but the back third of her home was hanging metres off of a cliff edge – that used to be solid ground.
‘To go from having a house to live in to not having a house to live in is shattering. It made me understand more how people who suffered in the tsunami in 2010 – there were pictures of people just sitting around,’ she recalled.
‘You get hit by the shock, then you can’t make decisions. It took me about six months before I could think properly. I struggled.’
The coastal town on Happisburgh has lost more than an entire street and 34 homes in the last 20 years to the sea as cliffs collapse
Coastal erosion is caused by the repeated action of waves and water against the cliffs. It can cause collapses and threaten nearby properties
A week after the storm struck, North Norfolk Council told Ms Nierop-Reading she couldn’t live in the caravan on her land. She pushed back against the council’s ruling but after four years of legal battles she ultimately lost the fight.
In 2018, she bought a two-bed semi-detached house for £99,000 at the end of the road.
‘I could have moved inland but I knew that if I did, I’d be like everybody else down the road who thinks erosion is somebody else’s problem,’ she explained.
‘I thought it would keep my mind concentrated if I lived on the edge. My family were very cross with me.’
The tarmac on Ms Nierop-Reading’s road, Beach Road, drops away suddenly 40 metres away from her front door.
According to her measurements the road has lost eight metres in the last 12 months alone. She says the council are doing nothing to stop it.
Insurance companies also won’t cover for damage caused by erosion.
Though she’s worried about losing the value of her house, Ms Nierop-Reading said she is more concerned about what will happen when she’s no longer here.
Bryony Nierop-Reading, 77, lost her home to the sea during a huge tidal surge in 2013 in Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast
Ms Nierop-Reading said: ‘The government’s response is to ‘adapt’- all that means is not doing anything about the problem’
Ms Nierop-Reading, who was widowed last year, said: ‘The government’s response is to “adapt”- all that means is not doing anything about the problem.
‘As a country we cannot ignore the fact that we are losing land all the time.
‘How long can they carry on shunting people inland? If the country gets smaller and smaller due to unaddressed erosion we will have a smaller country with an enlarged population with no way to feed them and house them.’
Nicola Bayless, a 47-year-old nurse, is Ms Nierop-Reading’s next-door neighbour. She has lived on the road for 19 years.
Her home is attached to Ms Nierop-Reading’s house but faces inland. The pair are baffled by the reluctance to use any sea defences by the government.
‘As a teenager I used to come down here to my parents’ chalet – that’s no longer here. I’m very upset and stressed about the prospect of moving,’ Ms Bayless said.
‘I fell in love with the area and thought this is where we wanted to stay- we want our children to grow up somewhere lovely.’
Ms Bayless said the prospect of moving out of her three bedroom home within the next ten years – which is when she estimates the cliff will be on her doorstep – has left her feeling ‘very stressed and upset.’
‘You never know when your time is up really. It’s like renting. One day you could have another Beast from the East and lose half a field,’ she said.
‘Your house shakes. I opened the curtain the next morning in 2018 and thought, “Where the hell has the field gone?”‘
Similarly, the roads leading to East Yorkshire’s erosion hotspots are littered with signs advertising ‘holiday homes’, many with price tags of £100,100 to £200,000.
Planning consent has also been granted for hundreds of new houses on fields just inland from the static caravans perched perilously above a 50 foot drop to the sea at Holderness.
Many of the caravan dwellers have seen entire rows of the caravan pitches in front of them topple into the sea in recent years.
Whether your pitch is a hundred yards either way of the ugly sea defences already scarring the sandy beaches stretching away to Filey Light House can make all the difference, residents stressed.
‘I always wanted to live by the sea but I could not afford a second house,’ Carol Stoker, 62, a retired secondary teacher from Halifax, West Yorkshire, said.
The roads leading to East Yorkshire’s erosion hotspots are littered with signs advertising ‘holiday homes’ – many with price tags of £100,100 to £200,000
Carole Stocker couldn’t afford a dream second home near the sea and so opted for a static caravan four years ago. She has already seen several significant cliff falls
‘When I first looked out of the window of our caravan I nearly cried. It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen,’ Ms Stoker said of her dream purchase
‘When I first looked out of the window of our caravan I nearly cried. It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen.
‘When I first bought the place I asked the seller “How long do you think we have got?” She said “20 years” – and I giggle about that now.’
Ms Stoker bought her caravan about four years ago. She experienced the impacts of coastal erosion that same year.
‘There was a big cliff fall and about 3 metres went. There used to be a car park in front of us then,’ she said.
‘When you go out for a walk you see a crack in the ground. The next time you pass by you see it has got deeper. The next time that section of the cliff has gone completely.
‘The Government should do more because it is not just the caravans at risk – a load of agricultural land has been lost too.’
Homeowner Robin Hargreave has lived on the site for nearly five years, after paying £10,000 for his static caravan, and claims there is evidence of fresh erosion up the coast
‘There is always a bit of erosion going on somewhere. I can see it crumbling as I walk along the cliff,’ the former nursing home manager said
Robin Hargreaves, 67, also from Halifax, paid £10,000 for a static caravan and has lived on the site for nearly five years, having retired from running a nursing home.
He claims there is evidence of fresh erosion up the coast from his caravan.
‘There is always a bit of erosion going on somewhere. I can see it crumbling as I walk along the cliff,’ Mr Hargreaves shared.
‘We are talking about a 40 mile length of the coastline. I think the policy to protect the towns is sensible because you cannot do much about the force of nature.
Mr Hargreave is determined to continue living in his static caravan, which he loves, despite the risk posed by erosion to his home
Ms Stoker and Mr Hargreaves live little over 100 yards beyond the Hornsea sea defences, meaning their caravans do not benefit from the concrete blocks and groynes
Some of the caravans above the sea defences are actually closer than those that have fallen to the edge of the cliff – but the land is relatively more stable
‘I have seen entire rows of caravan pitches which have been lost. When they know one is going to go they have to dismantle the concrete base so it does not topple onto the beach.
‘But I won’t be going anywhere because I love it here. But I can see the cracks when I am out walking. It does not come crashing down. It just slides gently into the sea when it happens,
‘It is quite stable at the moment – but we do not take it for granted.’
Both Ms Stoker and Mr Hargreaves live a little over 100 yards beyond the Hornsea sea defences, meaning their caravans do not benefit from the concrete blocks and groynes that help reduce the impact of the waves.
Some of the other caravans above the sea defences are actually closer to the edge of the cliff – but the land is relatively stable.
There are sea defences on the beach, including groynes and concrete blocks to stop the waves reaching the cliff, in order to slow down the erosion
Homeowners Carole and John Hughes in the living room of their property, which is perilously close to the cliff edge in Hornsea, East Yorkshire
John Hughes said of the cliff: ‘I never cut the grass – because the grass is helping hold the soil together and preventing it slipping off’
John Hughes, 71, a retired fibre optic planner, is only six feet from the brink – and is taking no chances with the £37,000 static home he bought seven years ago with wife Carole, 71, a former secretary at Portsmouth University.
He said: ‘I never cut the grass – because the grass is helping hold the soil together and preventing it slipping off.
‘Everything in front of us has gone. If the worst comes to the worst the site will move the caravan further back but we hope it doesn’t come to that.’
The couple live on the stable part of the cliff above the sea defences.
‘But if the erosion continues further up, where we are is going to become a peninsula,’ Mrs Hughes added.
Static caravans and holiday homes are perched very close to cliff edges as coastal erosion puts them at risk of falling into the ocean
Carole Hughes stands just feet away from a severe drop in her static holiday home in East Yorkshire. Residents are concerned about increasing erosion
Pat Cummings, 64, a retired Leeds dinner lady, lives above the sea defences where the ground seems more stable and says she hasn’t seen any movement
‘The Government just seem content to let it go. If you live in a house around here it’s terrible.
‘We have got insurance so if anything was to happen it would not be very nice but it would not be the end of the world financially.
‘Obviously, it is not something you would want to happen if you have got the grandchildren staying.
‘You see someone checking the edge of the cliff every morning so they are really on top of it. But we are not so much concerned for ourselves as other people.’
‘There are building a whole load of new houses on a field not far from here. We are surprised they got planning permission but they did.’
Pat Cummings, 64, a retired Leeds dinner lady, is also above the sea defences and the ground seems stable.
She paid £30,000 for the caravan more than four years ago and reckons her investment is safe for the foreseeable future.
She said: ‘We have not had any movement here for 15 to 16 years which is good because I come here to read and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.’
Houses in danger of falling into the sea on North End Avenue, in Thorpeness overlook the beach, as erosion continues to worsen
Lucy Ansbro, 54, claims her house (pictured) is now 12 metres closer to the cliff edge than it was when she first moved in 14 years ago
Part of Ms Ansbro garden has now fallen away and her house now lies only 20 metres from the edge. At the time she purchased the £600k four bedroom property, she was told it would be upwards of 50 years before it became a problem
Villagers in Thorpeness, East Suffolk, are ‘scared for the future’ of their homes, as they see properties decimated by cliff erosion.
Lucy Ansbro, 54, claims her house is now 12 metres closer to the cliff edge than it was when she first moved in 14 years ago.
Part of her garden has now fallen away and her house now lies only 20 metres from the edge.
At the time she purchased the £600k four bedroom property, she was told it would be upwards of 50 years before the erosion would be as bad as it is currently.
She now says the property would be worth ‘nothing’.
The TV and theatre producer said: ‘Where it is now was supposed to happen in 50 years, not 14. It’s just all happened very quickly.
‘It’s always been an issue on the east coast, there was a surge in 2010, but in the winter of 2019 we noticed the fences were eroding very quickly.
‘By February 2020, it a lot more erosion had happened and the house next doors defences had disappeared.
‘On Easter weekend of 2020 as we were sitting in the living room, we literally saw bits of our garden falling off of the cliff.
‘Since moving in, we’re 12 metres closer to the cliff, almost a metre a year, and the house next door lost about 25 metres.
An empty plot where a £2million house had to be demolished after being deemed too unsafe to live in. The occupants had not built sea defences
Signs warn beach goers of the potential of rock falls from the unstable cliffs, which can be fatal. The footpath along the beach is also closed
Sea defences on the beach at Thorpeness protect some of the remaining properties. Ms Ansbro is working with the council and a local committee to fundraise and build defence solutions along the entire coast
Houses for sale in Thorpeness as coastal erosion threatens sea-side properties along the east coast of England. Some residents said their houses are ‘worth nothing’ as they are not properly protected
Kate Ansbro has spent £400,000 to defend her property from the oncoming tide but says she’s worried about other homeowners who can’t afford to do the same
‘We’ve spent £400,000 building proper defences, so we’re safe for now, but the house would be worth nothing now until it’s properly defended but it’s very concerning.’
In October last year, the house next door to Ms Ansbro’s had to be completely demolished as it was no longer safe to inhabit.
The demolished house, locally known as the ‘red house’, was built in the 1920s and was thought to have been worth £2million before it had to be torn down.
The owners had not installed the same defences Ms Ansbro has.
Ms Ansbro is working with the council and a local committee to fundraise and build defence solutions along the entire coast, but fears it may take too long to save everyone.
She said: ‘Thorpeness isn’t my main concern – it’s quite a wealthy village with a lot of second homeowners. There’s so many other places along the east coast who simply don’t have the money to defend their houses – and it’s their only property they’re living in with their children.
‘We’re trying to do as much as we can to raise awareness and raise money to be ready for when sea levels rise.’
Another homeowner in Thorpness, Ben Brown, says his home is in a similar situation to his neighbours’.
Ben Brown, 52, whose home is a mere 70 metres from the cliff, said: ‘We knew about the issue and we had a survey done before we bought it to let us know how long we had before there would be trouble’
A sign warning that the flood defences in place on the beach at Thorpeness are damaged as residents worry about the future of their homes
Signs warn of the impacts of coastal erosion. Footpaths across the cliffs are closed over safety concerns and people have been warned not to stand under crumbling cliffs
Houses perilously close to the shoreline as the sea creeps closer and closer to their foundations. Lucy Ansbro has been fundraising for more defences
Although the farmer was aware of the coastal erosion problem on the coast when they bought the property two years ago, he was told by surveyors that it wouldn’t be a serious issue for another 60 years.
The 52-year-old, whose home is a mere 70 metres from the cliff, said: ‘We knew about the issue and we had a survey done before we bought it to let us know how long we had before there would be trouble.
‘Things have accelerated so fast since then, and although the survey said it would be 60 years, I think it will be a lot sooner if nothing is done.
‘We live over the track so we’re not quite at the forefront yet but the house opposite unfortunately had to be taken down.
‘It’s definitely a worry because we’ve invested a lot of money here and we expected to have it a lot longer – it’s awful and we’re scared for the future.
‘But I think there’s a plan being put together now and the intention is to get the cliff protected.’
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