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13 November 2014
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Coastlines in crisis - rising sea levels

Coastal crisis

Rising sea levels will have a major impact on the South East's coastline over the decades to come. It could result in the map of the region being completely redrawn. Even those miles from the sea could end up living under water.

If you own land in Kent where they've built the Ebbsfleet high speed rail link, the Government paid you the market rate compensation for it.

But if you own a property near the coast in the South East, and if the government decides to stop maintaining the sea defences, you won't get a penny in compensation.

In the next 50 years hundreds, possibly thousands, of homes in Kent and Sussex could face being abandoned to the sea and, if you own one, the Government won't pay you a penny.

In fact, you'll be expected to pay to safely demolish your own home so it doesn't pollute the sea.

You'll then have to put your name on the council housing list.

Climate change is changing the way we look at the map of the South East - and without action, those changes could be radical.

Staving off the sea

Jury's Gap is a small hamlet on the East Sussex-Kent border that sits on the Romney Marsh.

Two thousand years ago this part of the South East was submerged, but over the centuries it has slowly been reclaimed for farming.

Now, that process is being reversed - the sea is trying to reclaim this land back - and the Government isn't sure it wants to pour billions of pounds into defending it.


The coast - under threat from the sea?

Brigitte Bass lives on the front line, and she knows if coastal defences aren't built soon, the sea will spill in and flood the entire Romney Marsh.

After getting a letter from the Environment Agency telling her the house may have to be surrendered to the sea, Brigitte began desperately researching for someone who could help.

The man who came to her rescue was Malcolm Kerby who runs the Coastal Concern Action Group.

Losing your home

Malcolm Kerby says it's a growing problem: "At a stroke of a pen you have lost everything.

"Not only have you lost everything, you'll have to pay for the demolition of the major asset in your life - and you've got to pay for it."

With Malcolm's help, Brigitte and other residents have lobbied for their homes to be protected.

Their saviour, for the time being, has been the Ministry of Defence (MOD) who own the ranges next door, which it refuses to be flooded.

But if the MOD pull out altogether and the defences aren't maintained, the sea could flood in and fill up the Romney Marsh.

Flooding in your town

Another area at high risk is the section on the River Rother outside Rye which has the lowest level of sea defence on the entire South East coast.

Immediately behind it lies a primary school and around 200 homes.

This major flood worry is already on the Environment Agency's radar.

In the last 18 months the Agency has carried out three emergency repairs, but the problem refuses to go away.

It's a similar picture in several parts of the region.

Mapping sea levels

Dr Geoff Meaden and John Hills from Canterbury Christchurch University are creating a unique flood map to plot areas of flood risk in South East England.

They are working on three different scenarios based on varying levels of sea rises from 1 metre towards the end of this century, followed by 3 and 5 metre rises in the longer term.

According to their projections, Thanet almost gets cut off from mainland Kent at 1 metre whilst at 3 metres it becomes an island.

A similar picture emerges elsewhere.

View a map of the South East and find out how it'll be affected by sea rises:

Stemming the tide

Large scale engineering projects can help to stem to rising water levels but at a price.

The South East has been looking increasingly towards Holland, a low lying country, for solutions.

The Oosterschelde Barrier is the largest mobile dam in the world at over 2 km in length - it was built to hold back a 5 metre sea surge.

With a life span of 200 years it's Holland's insurance policy against climate change.

The man who designed it thinks the UK needs to play catch up when it comes to rising sea levels.

Professor Han Vrijling from Delft University says, "In Holland it is a national issue and the South East could use some better defence - if you look to the Netherlands, we spend million if not billions to defend the coast."

Super dams?

Experts say a 1 metre sea rise will take place sometime in the next 40 to 100 years.

After that, climate change is hard to predict, and the worst case scenarios could become reality.

Andy Pearce from the Environment Agency says: "We don't want a ring of steel around the South East coast. I think people are going to have realise we are going to have to let some parts go.

Map of Kent with raised water levels

Kent as it might look in future.

"Government policy at the moment has no mechanism for compensation for people who lose financially due to coastal erosion or flood risk management.

"But over the coming years we are going to have to have tools and means of compensating those affected."

Some in the private sector want a super dam built across the Thames Estuary to cope with a super sea rise.

Designs for an Outer Thames Barrier from Sheerness to South-End have already been floated past Government ministers.

But there is one big downside to the plan - parts of Kent will have to be flooded as a result.

It seems that there are no easy solutions...

last updated: 18/09/2008 at 13:48
created: 12/09/2008

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