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28 October 2014

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South East England - The Wash to Dover


The Vanishing Coast

Every beach, bay and cliff edge along this stretch of coast has a story to tell of people who struggled with changing sea levels, the perils of flooding, subsidence and erosion. Whole towns have been lost to the sea, houses teeter on cliff tops... the very land is crumbling away.

Cley-Next-the-Sea: Lost Harbours of North Norfolk

During the 15th and 16th centuries, some of Britain's most important ports were located on the North Norfolk coast, as ships criss-crossed to Europe with cargoes of grain, barley and salt fish. From the 17th century these harbours began to silt up as deposition narrowed the channels. As a result, many of the ports relocated further north, or became redundant once access to the sea had been cut off. Nick Crane takes a tour of the village of Cley with Jonathan Hooton, who has spent the last 25 years finding evidence of the lost harbours of North Norfolk.

Cromer: Landbridge

Cromer BeachOver the last 700,000 years Britain has been completely transformed by the Ice Age, a series of deep-freeze cold periods in our climate, when sheets of ice up to two and half kilometres thick covered Britain. Water from the world's oceans was locked up in the ice caps and our sea levels were up to 120m lower. As a result Britain was connected to Europe by marshland known as a 'landbridge'. Geologist Peter Balson discusses the evidence for the landbridge under the bed of the North Sea.

Further evidence is provided by the animal bones dredged up from the North Sea: exotic-sounding animals including hyenas, elephants, hippos and rhinos. Alice Roberts joins Nigel Larkin at Gressenhall Museum in Norfolk where bones of these animals are kept.

Norfolk Broads

Norfolk-born Nick Crane spent a great deal of his childhood pottering about in canoes and sailing boats on the Norfolk Broads. For him, the man-made wetland system is a magnificent place. Today it's the region's most precious natural ecosystem and a massive draw for tourists. However, the 117 square miles of Broads which stretch from Norwich all the way to the coast at Great Yarmouth are being threatened by the remorseless advance of a rising sea.

Lowestoft: Beach huts

Sitting in colourful rows along many British beaches, the beach hut has become enormously popular. Its origins lie with the Victorian 'bathing machine'– there to protect the modesty of its female occupants.

At Lowestoft, the seafront is lined with some 230 council-owned huts; in total there are around 20,000 of them on our coastline either in private ownership or available to rent. Mark Horton meets architectural historian Dr Kathryn Ferry who has travelled the coast in search of them all.

For Lowestoft Beach Hut rental details, visit this website or contact the Beach Hut Rental Officer on 01502 523337.

Southwold: One man's attempt to hold back the sea

Beneath the cheery veneer of beach huts and holiday makers, Southwold is home to a modern-day King Canute and the story of one man's personal battle with the sea. Unlike the famous misguided king, retired engineer Peter Boggis is taking things rather more into his own hands. Over the past two years, he's almost singlehandedly been building his own sea defences to prevent his and neighbouring homes from falling into the sea. The defences are now 500 metres long and incorporate 100,000 tonnes of soil.

Orford Ness

Orford Ness is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe and is recognised as having great nature conservation importance. From the air, it's easy to see how long-shore drift has pushed the shingle down the coast to create it. However, it's spent much of the 20th century shrouded in mystery as a top secret military test site for developing the atomic bomb and early radar techniques. The shingle spit is littered with concrete bunkers and research labs from the Cold War. Now redundant and slowly decaying, many of the military buildings survive intact and are open to the public.

Abbotts Hall Farm & Canvey Island: Flooding

Graham MancerA freak tidal surge in 1953 breached much of the east coast claiming the lives of 307 people, damaging or destroying 24,000 homes and causing around 40,000 householders to be evacuated. Canvey Island in Essex suffered a dreadful loss when the sea burst through the defences, killing 58 people and flooding 11,000 homes. Joan Liddiard and Graham Manser lived through that fateful night and share their memories of the floods with Nick Crane.

Abbotts Hall FarmFollowing the 1953 floods, 250 miles of sea wall were repaired or replaced in the hope that a tragedy of this scale would be prevented in the future. However, the cost of maintaining these sea defences is spiralling.

Now Government agencies are looking for alternative ways to defend our coastline to accommodate the rise of sea levels and the risk of more frequent storm surges. Nick Crane visits Abbotts Hall Farm in Essex which is pioneering a scheme called managed realignment (or retreat). This involves deliberately beaching flood defences in order to recreate salt marshes which act as a natural flood defence.

Abbotts Hall Farm is open to the public. If you'd like more details, contact Essex Wildlife Trust on 01621 862960, or visit their website.

Margate: The Fighting Temeraire

With its proximity to the sea, Margate has long attracted visitors and artists. One of its most famous, Joseph Mallord William Turner, became a regular visitor to Margate which he loved for its quality of light, the sea, the skies and his landlady Mrs Sophia Booth. Drawing inspiration from the East Kent coast, Turner produced more than 100 of his works including some of his most famous seascapes.

While we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar, very few people will have heard of the gallant role the Temeraire played alongside Nelson's flagship, the Victory. The Temeraire's captain was Sir Eliab Harvey, a wealthy landowner and MP for Maldon in Essex. He wrote a series of letters to his wife during the battle - letters which provide an extraordinary insight into the events of the battle and the pivotal role played by the Temeraire.

White Cliffs of Dover: Kayaking

Nick Crane in a kayakNick Crane ventures out into the waters around the Kent coast to join circumnavigator Simon Osborne for the finale of his journey. In 2002, Simon completed a journey around the British coastline in a kayak. He set himself the task as a memorial to his brother who died of leukaemia at the age of 13. He started his journey from Aberystwyth paddling continuously for up to 12 hours a day. It took him less than four months to complete the mammoth journey.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge


Coastal Habitats
Coastal Plants
The UK's Coastal Wildlife Hotspots
Coastal Birds
Finding Coastal Wildlife
Kids Guide to the Seaside

On the rest of the web

British Geological Survey: Coastal & Marine Geoscience
Norfolk Museums
Lowestoft beach hut hire
National Trust: Orford Ness
Abbotts Hall Farm
Turner Contemporary, Margate
The Thanet Coast Project

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Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline


Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external links.

Programme 13 Coast the Summary

The final programme examines coastal issues highlighted in earlier episodes: sea level rise and erosion; the health of our seas and wildlife, power generation; and access to our coast; as well as development.


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