I have lived in East Anglia on and off since I was five years old and spent most of my childhood holidays on the coast not far from Aldeburgh and so it was with great anxiety I listened to the local radio last Thursday night as the predicted North Sea storm surge battered the coastline.
The North Sea storm surge turned out to be the biggest for 60 years, but unlike the surge in 1953 when over 300 people died and 24,000 properties were flooded in this region, this time there was no loss of life. It wasn’t all good news though, about 1,000 properties were flooded and for a handful of people they had to endure the sight of their homes falling into the sea as the soft, sandy cliff at Hemsby collapsed.
Hemsby in Norfolk is a small coastal village just north of Great Yarmouth. The eastern coastline of East Anglia is a gentle undulating mixture of sand dunes, shingle beach and salt marshes. Every now and then the coast rises into low cliffs 10-15 metres above the sea. These cliffs are soft sandstone and easily eroded. Coastal erosion along East Anglia has been a constant problem for hundreds of years. The Suffolk town of Dunwich is now almost gone, disappearing by chunks into the sea. In the 11th century it was a town of over 3000 inhabitants but is now a small village of less 100 residents. The loss of property at Hemsby is just part of this ongoing process.
However, there is good news, after this most recent surge, it appears that the sea defences put in place since the 1953 disaster have mostly held and were effective. Seven miles up the coast from Hemsby is Waxham where some of these defences can be clearly seen.