'It's sad to see' - dramatic beach erosion at Winterton and Hemsby

Erosion of Hemsby beach is continuing at a worrying pace.

High tides and winds have carved a 5ft drop at Hemsby. The vanishing beach is making launching difficult for the independent lifeboat service. - Credit: Liz Coates

A tense "watch and wait" operation is underway as high winds and surging seas batter the coast.

At 9am on Monday when high tides should have been ebbing away, crashing waves were still grabbing material from the base of soft sandy cliffs at Winterton and Hemsby in what looked like a losing battle.

James Bensly highlights coastal erosion issue in Hemsby

Borough and county councillor James Bensly says legislation around coastal erosion needs updating to give coastal communities more "tools" to work with. - Credit: Liz Coates

Borough and county councillor James Bensly said the already depleted beach was too "unhealthy" to keep the worst of the weather at bay with the remnants of storm Corrie powering conditions here.

Meanwhile out-of-date legislation meant there was little legal help for beleaguered homes and businesses on the front line, and long awaited sea defences already ten years in the making were still at least 18 months away.

Hemsby beach has taken a battering in January 2022, the elements given added power by storm Corrie.

James Bensly and lifeboat Coxswain Daniel Hurd inspect the beach at Hemsby as the tide ebbs. Tank traps are holding the sands, levels dropping off sharply in front of them. - Credit: Liz Coates

And by then it could all be too late, he said, with erosion streaks becoming "more regular and more intensive."

"Will we have enough time?" he said. "Our whole coastline can change in a night."

"This is not a weather event," he added. "This is the remnants of a storm in Scotland and a 3.4m high tide and strong north-westerly wind. If it was anything more we would really be in trouble."

Flicking through pictures on his phone reveals how much things have changed.

Holiday makers of yesteryear would struggle to recognise the same seaside today.

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The stretch is no stranger to "trouble" with catastrophic storm surges in 2013 and 2018 during the Beast from the  East when a string of chalets were pulled down, amplifying calls for robust defences.

Daniel Hurd of Hemsby lifeboat shares his erosion concerns.

Hemsby lifeboat coxswain Dan Hurd has shared his frustration at the length of time it is taking to get sea defences for Hemsby, a holiday village that relies on its beach. - Credit: Liz Coates

Lifeboat coxswain Daniel Hurd said that having invested tens of thousands in a new boat and machinery there was a chance it would soon not be able to operate.

Without a beach there was not enough room to manoeuvre the boat and haul it up to the lifeboat shed.

Instead, a concrete pad is being proposed and an appeal launched for materials like railway sleepers to shore up the dunes, and manpower to get on with their own make-do-and-mend solution so they can at least  respond to emergencies.

He also wants to find a way to realign the 14 tonne tank trap  blocks which are holding the beach but need moving back.

Mr Hurd said he was frustrated plans for a rock berm still needed planning permission and funding more than ten years after they were first talked about and nine years since the previous lifeboat shed was lost to the 2013 surge.

Meanwhile they were virtually helpless, some costly interventions turning out to be pointless.

"It is so sad to see," he said.  "Knowing that a whole lot of rock could be put down there. It's just not happening quick enough. It was 2013 when we lost the lifeboat shed. Frustrated is not the word."

At Winterton the reshaping of the coast has been brisk and brutal.

Beach Road at Winterton has suffered from erosion.

The end of Beach Road at Winterton. Council leader Carl Smith is hoping to get some more robust safety measures at the site amid fears of more land loss. - Credit: Liz Coates

There, steep cliffs have replaced sloping dunes that now offer no access to the beach.

Just over a year after the cafe was demolished, and quickening erosion is now threatening the coastwatch tower.The parking kiosk is now just feet away from the edge.

On Monday morning Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader Carl Smith met with the landowner and went to see the damage for himself.

He said the immediate priority was making the "road to nowhere" safe.

The pace of erosion at Winterton, Norfolk, is threatening multiple buildings.

The car park kiosk at Winterton is edging ever close to oblivion little more than a year after the Dunes Cafe was demolished to stop it from falling onto the beach. - Credit: Liz Coates

As it was just a few signs and plastic barriers are all that are preventing unwary motorists driving over the edge - particularly at night.

And with a further high tide predicted tonight (Monday) and the prospect of even more land loss something sturdier was needed in case the signage went over the cliff or was blown over.

Coastwatch at Winterton has launched an online donation page to help fund its move.

The coastwatch tower at Winterton is moving ever closer to the edge of what are now vertiginous cliffs at Winterton. - Credit: Liz Coates

Currently the only access to the beach is via a few minutes walk either side of the car park.

With another high tide predicted tonight, all eyes will be on the coast amid hopes it will pass off  peacefully leaving the vulnerable coastline relatively unscathed.

To find out how you can help the lifeboat crew email coxswain@hemsbylifeboat.co.uk or secretary@hemsbylifeboat.co.uk.

To support Winterton coastwatch's relocation bid visit their gofundme page.

Winterton erosion continues apace in 2022.

Blocks at Winterton which were once on top of the cliffs now a long distance from them in January 2022. The coastwatch tower is now under threat. - Credit: Liz Coates