Sidmouth cliff erosion - a Sidmothian's views

TWO more cliff falls at Sidmouth s Salcombe Hill cliffs – the latest on Monday – have virtually blocked Eastern beach to walkers.

TWO more cliff falls at Sidmouth's Salcombe Hill cliffs - the latest on Monday - have virtually blocked Eastern beach to walkers.

Just days after Salcombe Hill Residents Association launched its petition calling for rock protection to Pennington Point, more of its chairman's garden has ended up on the beach.

Sidmothian John Govier, keen fisherman, seafront resident and former district councillor, talks to the Herald about the changing face of the cliffs since the 1950s.

"Without doubt, the erosion of the cliff and shingle has speeded up since the rock off-shore breakwater and groynes were completed in May 1995," he said.

"There was a very cold winter in 1963, with prolonged easterly storms, which built up shingle right across the seafront to the level of the promenade."

The 1980s saw a succession of south westerly storms and by 1990 there was no shingle in front of the town and it was down to the red marl bottom.

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As a matter of urgency the sea wall was rebuilt and rocks placed at the bottom to stop any undermining.

Then the offshore breakwaters were built, together with three rock groynes, at York Steps, Bedford Steps and Dunnings Pier. This scheme was completed in 1995.

The smallest breakwater at Bedford was later enlarged.

Shingle from Woodbury Quarries was put back on the beach and some remains between Clifton and York Steps.

"It has been obvious to see for some years now the gentleman who spoke at the public meetings, Professor Kellaway, was right," said Mr Govier, who attended all the public meetings with Posford Duvivier, East Devon District Council's engineering consultants, who designed the Government paid scheme.

"He said there would be a vulnerable 'shadow area'; east of the rock scheme, in time. He was listened to but his advice was not taken at the time.

"Everyone else was keen to get on. Sidmouth was desperate to have a beach back and, you must remember, every storm virtually closed the seafront.

"I remember during one storm, standing beside the Bedford Hotel and watching as a wave hit the seafront and hit one of the promenade lights and deposited it thorough the doorway of the Mermaid Bar - now Jack's.

"On another occasion I saw a wave smash the wall down of the old sailing club building - now Sidmouth Lifeboat station."

Mr Govier said EDDC was told the beach would need topping up and this had not been done. He points out:

* Millions of tons of shingle have gone between Sidmouth and Salcombe Mouth and Weston Beach as well [around the corner from Hook Ebb].

* An enormous loss of cliff has occurred at Pennington Point east of the river mouth

* The loss of shingle eastwards to Salcombe Mouth has resulted in more wave erosion to the base of Salcombe Hill Cliff and subsequently we are witnessing many more falls than we had in the whole of the last century.

He says there must have been a huge fall centuries ago to leave Chapman Rocks as they are, along with Hook Ebb, Long Ebb and Broad Ebb, all east of Sidmouth.

"There always has been erosion of the red sandstone cliffs, that is nothing new, and has gone on since the beginning of time.

"Only a couple of years ago there was a tremendous landslide at Hook Ebb, the biggest in Devon, and there will always be cliff falls and erosion."


Of the future, Mr Govier's main worry is Pennington Point, Alma Bridge, the river mouth and erosion eastwards.

"To do nothing at the river mouth is asking for trouble," he said.

"How many officers from EDDC and 'expert consultants' have stood beside Alma Bridge as I have and watched as 'green water' waves have gone right over the top of Alma Bridge?"

He said it would be sad to see Sampson's beautiful bridge washed away because no-one could be bothered to do anything.

"Protect it now before it is too late," he said, adding a large pile of rocks where Pennington Point used to be would help protect the bridge.

While the offshore breakwaters have protected the seafront and properties from Clifton to York Steps, Mr Govier describes the scene eastwards as "a disaster.

"There is no doubt that the 'lateral' natural drift of shingle from West to East has been changed by the offshore breakwaters and the three rock groynes at Bedford, York and Port Royal have not allowed the shingle to be deposited along the Sidmouth front as happened in the past.

"Look at Jacob's Ladder beach now, there is a good beach there now. That side, west of the offshore rock groynes, does not appear to be affected.

"But notice that all the pebbles are of a different size than those in front of the town and eastwards."

Mr Govier thinks designers of the scheme should voice their views on its effects 14 years on.

"It was 'tank tested' at the time, along with many other schemes. Has it done what they said it would and why all the erosion?

"Would it be possible to change the scheme using the existing rocks?" he asks and wonders what the cliffs and beach will look like in 2030.

"I don't know, but I am certain of one thing," he said. "If nothing is done now then the Eastern side of Sidmouth will change a lot more.

"Instead of calling it the Heritage Coast, people will say: "That's where the Heritage Coast used to be but it all washed into the sea."

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