Heatwave may have caused latest Sidmouth cliff falls

A cloud of dust rising as part of the cliff at East Beach collapses 

A cloud of dust rising as part of the cliff at East Beach collapses - Credit: Jurassic Paddle Sports

There have been two more dramatic collapses of the cliffs at Sidmouth’s East Beach – and they may have been caused by the recent extreme heat. 

On Monday, July 25 a section of the cliff crumbled on to the beach, followed by another fall a few minutes later. 

The beach has been closed to the public for years because of the danger of cliff falls, and East Devon District Council has repeatedly warned people to keep off it. 

But it’s reported that someone was seen on East Beach shortly before the collapse. 

Jurassic Paddle Sports, based on nearby Sidmouth Beach, posted a photo of the collapse on Facebook and urged people to keep away from the unstable cliffs. 

They said: “Another reminder to stay off East Beach here at Sidmouth. Lifeguards have been advising all summer so far to stay off that beach. Today’s fall missed someone by a matter of minutes. Please take note of signs and follow the advice from the lifeguards.” 

Sidmouth’s cliffs are composed of soft rock and there is always the danger of a landslide or collapse. The planned Beach Management Scheme is designed to prevent further erosion of the cliffs, as well as protecting Sidmouth from coastal flooding. 

But it is likely that the heatwave earlier this month was also a factor in the latest collapses. 

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On Thursday, July 14, with record-breaking temperatures forecast for the next few days, neighbouring Dorset Council warned: “Heat causes rocks to expand and, particularly during temperature fluctuations, any pre-existing cracks can widen, and new cracks can also form. This makes cliffs potentially more unstable and rockfalls more likely to happen.” 

Catherine Pennington, landslide specialist at the British Geological Survey, said: 

“Landslides can occur on our dynamic coast at any time and the science research to fully understand the link between rockfalls and temperature fluctuations is still ongoing. 

“What we do know is that cracks can form or widen during these changes in temperature.  In general, cracks related to instability can be very difficult to see from the cliff top, as can unsupported, overhanging rocks so, as well as staying well away from the cliffs on the beach, it is also important to stay away from cliff edges at the top.”