Startling new images reveal extent of Happisburgh erosion

Malcolm Kerby (inset) and the cliffs at Happisburgh. 

Malcolm Kerby (inset) and the cliffs at Happisburgh. - Credit: Mike Page / Danielle Booden

More has to be done to prevent the village of Happisburgh disappearing from the the map, according to campaigner Malcolm Kerby.

Mr Kerby, one of the co-founders of the village's Coastal Action Group, called on the government to fund a "roll-back" so homes and other structures threatened by erosion could be built further inland.  

8th november 1996 neg scan

A aerial photo by Mike Page of the cliff line at Happisburgh in 1996. - Credit: Mike Page

A shot of the same stretch of cliffs in Happsiburgh in 2021.

A shot of the same stretch of cliffs in Happisburgh in 2021. - Credit: Mike Page

It comes as new images from aerial photographer Mike Page reveal the startling rate at which the cliff line at Happisburgh has fallen away in the past 35 years. 

Houses that once perched precariously on the edge are no longer there, and the aged network of wooden sea walls and groynes has been all but swept away. 

Picture by Mike Page shows :-

Picture by Mike Page shows the cliff line at Happisburgh in 1995. The yellow dots show a now cliffside wartime pillbox and nearest house to the cliffs. - Credit: Mike Page

Mike Page

The cliff line at Happisburgh, showing the same pillbox and house in yellow dots, pictured in 2021. - Credit: Mike Page

Mr Kerby, who has travelled across the country studying the effects of coastal erosion on other communities, said because the government had made a 6.1-hectare stretch of the cliffs an area of special scientific interest it was illegal to build further defences there, making further erosion inevitable. 

He said: "What you can't do is change the policy from 'hold the line' to one of 'managed realignment', meaning no active intervention, without providing a method and the funds to allow the community to adapt. 

The cliffs and sea defences at Happisburgh in 1996, showing the lighthouse in the background. 

The cliffs and sea defences at Happisburgh in 1996, showing the lighthouse in the background. - Credit: Mike Page

The same view of Happisburgh in 2021.

The same view of Happisburgh in 2021. - Credit: Mike Page

"With a roll-back policy, in 200 years you would still have Happisburgh, unlike other coastal communities which have disappeared completely and their heritage didn't continue. 

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"The government is paying out millions to those affected by the policy of the fast rail link from London to Manchester.

"We're also affected by government policy and we've just got to paddle our own canoe. The lack of social justice here is enormous. The problem is going to get much worse."

Malcolm Kirby from Happisburgh's Coastal Concern Action Group on the beach. Picture: Danielle Booden

Malcolm Kerby from Happisburgh's Coastal Concern Action Group. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Patrick Tubby, chairman of the Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust, keeps track of the erosion by measuring the distance from the lighthouse's wall to the closest point on the cliffs each year. 

Mr Tubby said the last main falls of soil from the cliffs had taken place last winter, and there had not been any since then. 

He said: "Over the last seven years or so, the closet point to the lighthouse has reduced from 168 metres in 2014 to 145 metres now. 

Patrick Tubby, chairman of the Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust, has been giving tours of the structure for decades. 

Patrick Tubby, chairman of the Happisburgh Lighthouse Trust. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

"The regression is on average about three metres a year, which is about the same it has always been.

"More protection at Happisburgh would be of course welcomed, and in reality, this would be the only way to slow the erosion rate going forward."

Mr Tubby said the sand consisted of less sand and more clay moving further away from the cliffs, and because of this the rate of erosion was expected to slow. 

A film crew has been filming near the lighthouse in Happisburgh.

The car park and playground near Happisburgh, which will be threated by erosion in the future. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He said the lighthouse's life expectancy was a "million dollar question" which no-one had the answer to, but said on current rates, it should last another 50-80 years. 

Mr Tubby said: "Moving the lighthouse would not be an option - any expense in trying to do that would be better spent on sea defences. 

Coastal erosion at Happisburgh. Picture: Danielle Booden

A large 'bite' in the cliffs at Happisburgh, illustrating the problem of coastal erosion, pictured earlier in 2021.   - Credit: Danielle Booden

"The lighthouse is an icon of Norfolk, but in 30 or 40 years, with advances in technology, would it actually be of benefit to mariners as a navigation aid?"

A spokesman for the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), said: "Flooding and coastal erosion can have terrible consequences for people, businesses and the environment. That’s why we are investing a record £5.2 billion to build 2,000 new flood and coastal defences to better protect 336,000 properties across England.

“Alongside this record investment, our new long-term policy statement on flood and coastal erosion risk management is the most comprehensive in a decade with five ambitious policies and over 40 supporting actions to accelerate progress to better protect and prepare the country for future flooding and coastal erosion.”

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