Dawlish Warren beach
Can Dawlish Warren be saved?
By Laura Joint
The speeding up of coastal erosion at Dawlish Warren has raised concerns over the future of its famous beach and nature reserve. The main railway line and coastal properties might be at risk, too.
The sands of time could be running out for one of Devon's best loved beaches.
Dawlish Warren in South Devon is being eroded at an increasing rate - raising fears for the beach, the national nature reserve, main line railway and people's homes.
Sections of the famous golden sands at Dawlish Warren beach have washed away - literally.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the River Exe estuary, there appears to be more sand on Exmouth beach, and one theory is that Dawlish Warren's loss is Exmouth's gain.
An avocet on the River Exe
The estuary habitat at the warren's Site of Special Scientific Interest - home to a wide array of wading birds - is also being eroded.
If the erosion continues, the main railway line will be at risk, as well as properties.
The Government's environment department, Defra, has funded an investigation into the problem and a report is being drawn up by a group of organisations including the local district councils, the Environment Agency, Natural England and Network Rail.
Teignbridge District Council is worried that the loss of sand at Dawlish will hit the tourism industry and local economy - a fear echoed by traders in the town.
The Environment Agency deals with the threat of flooding, while Natural England is responsible for managing the nature reserve.
Chris Davis of Natural England (formerly English Nature) said the Exe Estuary is a complex area and there are no 'quick fixes' to the issue of erosion.
"It's a fascinating site as it is very dynamic. It moves around, and the sediment moves around as well. We have to work with it, rather than against it.
"We are working on a plan which is a sustainable solution."
As part of the study, the agencies are looking at past changes in the estuary to assess if this is cyclical.
The Exe Estuary at high tide
Mr Davis said: "Erosion in this area isn't a new problem, but it has speeded up in recent years.
"The agencies have drawn up a plan to address the threat of any catastrophic event happening while the detailed investigation into a long term sustainable solution is ongoing.
"It would be a knee-jerk reaction to build up defences there now."
Mr Davis said that all options are being considered - including letting nature take its course. However, he said that all interests are being considered.
Local councillors are calling for the defences to be strengthened as soon as possible. Cllr Humphrey Clemens, who represents Dawlish South West on Teignbridge District Council, said failure to act would be catastrophic.
"The sea defences have been left to become dilapidated - they are in a very poor condition. We feel they should be repaired.
"If we do nothing, the railway line would be exposed at Powderham and there will be a risk of flooding all the way up the Exe to Exeter because the sand dunes act as a breakwater to take the power out of the waves before then.
"We've got 12,000 bed spaces in Dawlish Warren, so the beach is very important for tourism. We want the sand to be replenished - and sooner rather than later," he added.
Mike Baker of East Devon District Council said that while Dawlish Warren was being turned into a stony beach, Exmouth had appeared to become more sandy in recent years - so the sand might be moving across the river.
"We suspect that might be happening," said Mr Baker. "The western end of the warren is losing sand, while the eastern end of the warren is getting bigger.
"And Exmouth seems to have more sand that it did a couple of years ago."
The results of the study and details of a long-term solution are expected to be revealed in the summer of 2008. That will be followed by a period of public consultation.
last updated: 21/02/2008 at 15:50