Disappearing Coastlines



Photo: Mercury Press – drone image from James Loveridge

I recently played golf at Bridport, and clearly remember the 15th hole which flirts very close to the cliff edge. This week, a significant cliff collapse (of 2000 tonnes of rock) added an extra hazard to this hole, and caused the coast path to be closed to walkers.


 It was a clear demonstration of how transient and temporary our coastal landscape is, and led me to re-read this article I recently saved:




Photo: dreamstime.com

The article reflects on the recent loss of the Azure Window, a beautiful arch in Malta which suddenly collapsed into the sea. It goes on to outline some of the recent major changes to our own coastline here in the UK, making reference to Arch Rock in the Isle of Wight, that collapsed in 1992, Lulworth cliff collapse in 2013, and the recreation of a sandy beach at Dooagh in Ireland earlier this year.



The article also examines some UK coastal landscape attractions that are under serious risk from sea level rise and aggressive coastal processes – so much so that they will probably not be around for much longer for us to enjoy. A kind of ‘endangered species’ list for coastal features:



Photo: dreamstime.com

1.       The Old Man of Hoy – Britain’s tallest stack made up from Devonian sandstone and located in the Orkney Islands. Over a hundred years ago, this stack looked very different indeed, with an arch running through a much wider base. Now, this narrow chimney of rock faces constant erosion from gale force winds and high energy waves, and currently has a 40 metre vertical crack in the top of its south face.


2.       Bow Fiddle Rock – a sea arch located near Portknockie on the north eastern coast of Scotland.

3.       Durdle Door – possibly the most famous English sea arch in Dorset.

4.       Chesil Beach – a 29 kilometre shingle spit in Dorset.

5.       The Green Bridge – an arch in Pembrokeshire well on its way to collapse to form a new stack.



Photo: visitpembrokeshire.com


Do you have any coastal landforms near you that could be added to this list? Perhaps an arch ready to collapse, a stack being undercut, or a stretch of coast threatened by flooding following sea level rise?

 As geographers, we can reflect in our lessons on coastal landshaping processes, rising sea levels, and human interference – but should also recognise the emotional attachment people can develop to special coastal features, and how much of a shock it can be for them when they suddenly disappear. At least we know that the natural cycle of processes will inevitably create new wonders to take the place of those that will become lost.


About devongeography

Head of Geography and Assistant Vice Principal at South Molton Community College, North Devon. Exeter Chiefs supporter!
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