Image shows Sidmouth’s vanishing coast

Changes at Pennington Point.

Changes at Pennington Point. - Credit: Archant

‘Levels of beach at Pennington Point have fallen by more than a metre in some places since 2007’, say scientists.

This striking image shows the dramatic change to Sidmouth’s coastline over the last decade.

It has been released by the South West Regional Coastal Monitoring Programme (SWRCMP) this week to demonstrate the programme’s work.

And scientists say that action to manage beach erosion in Sidmouth should contribute to managing the crumbling cliffs as well.

The Plymouth Coastal Observatory (PCO), the data-gathering arm of the programme, first commissioned aerial photography of the area in 2007, just a year after the SWRCMP was launched.


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Such photography is just one way the scientists at the PCO track the changes for the programme, which works on behalf of the area’s maritime local authorities and coastal groups, as well as the Environment Agency and Defra, and is managed by Teignbridge District Council.

The scientists are also regularly seen on the beaches of the region, from Beachley Point in Gloucestershire to Portland Bay in West Dorset, physically charting the changes taking place due to erosion and deposition, natural coastal processes caused by the weather and tides.

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The coast is divided into segments, so accurate measurements can be made from the same points time and again. This produces graphs called beach profiles, which again can then be used to show the changes taking place.

Comparing profiles taken at Pennington Point at Sidmouth shows that the levels of the beach there have fallen – in some places by more than a metre – since 2007.

Photographs taken along the profiles help show the differences. Data produced by LiDAR – which is similar to radar but which uses light instead of radio waves – has added to the information available.

Coastal process scientist Emerald Siggery from the PCO said: “There have been a number of cliff falls at Pennington Point in recent years. Our data, which includes aerial photography, topographic surveys and LiDAR, has given us accurate measurements of the changes.

“But all our rich data also shows, vitally, that erosion of the beach is contributing to the erosion of the cliffs, so if action is taken to manage the beach erosion, that should contribute to managing erosion of the cliffs as well.”

The huge amount of information gathered by the SWRCMP over the last 10 years is freely available. Among its many uses is informing projects such as beach management plans which help make sure the region’s beaches remain in good condition and themselves help protect homes and businesses from flood risk.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) and its partners, including local residents, councillors and community organisations - as well as statutory bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency - have met regularly as part of a bid to formulate the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “This week we completed consultation on the potential options to manage the beach to reduce flood risk and coastal erosion across Sidmouth and East Beach, including the area around Pennington Point. The consultation will help us confirm a shortlist of options for more detailed technical and environmental appraisal with the aim of pinpointing one scheme for Sidmouth and East Beach. There will be public consultation on this short list in June with the Beach Management Plan due to be completed in the Autumn.”

To coincide with the 10th anniversary of the programme, a new website is being launched by the SWRCMP to share the information more widely with the public: http://southwest.coastalmonitoring.org/

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