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You are in: Suffolk > Nature > Coast > > Point 1 - The Changing Coastline

Breakwaters on the beach at Southwold

Breakwaters on the beach at Southwold

Point 1 - The Changing Coastline

Standing near the pier take a look at Southwold’s elegant seafront. You will see the low lying sweep of beach and the Victorian lighthouse on the higher ground behind.

Southwold is virtually an island, surrounded by river, creek and sea. For centuries this part of the coast has suffered from currents and tides which cause the sands to shift and the line between land and sea to change. The silting up of the harbour has been a problem for generations of fishermen and today the area is facing an on-going battle with coastal erosion.

Easton Bavents

Easton Bavents

Geology

The sand along this part of the Suffolk coast was laid down by the North Sea about two million years ago and basically the sea is now trying to claim it back. The slightly higher piece of land, with the water tower and golf course on it, is made of more solid gravel and it resists erosion.

You can see this gravel behind Southwold at the pits at Henham and Wangford. There’s similar higher ground at Dunwich and Minsmere, again containing this chunky gravel, but in between there’s the sand which is gradually being chewed away.

LISTEN/READ MORE ABOUT THE GEOLOGY OF THIS AREA FROM LOCAL GEOLOGIST, HOWARD MOTTRAM.  CLICK ON THE LINK AT THE TOP RIGHT OF THIS PAGE >>

‘King Canute’

Take a look at the picture above, looking north beyond the pier towards Easton Bavents. You will see a deep curve in the coastline, but within living memory this part of the coast was a straight line.

Sea defence work by local resident

Sea defence work by local resident

One concerned local resident, Peter Boggis, has started building his own sea defences. ‘King Canute’ (as he has become known) has already dumped thousands of tonnes of waste material on the beach at Easton Bavents. But there are fears that this controversial scheme may itself be contributing to sand and shingle erosion and interfering with the sedimentary drift.

Floods

During the devastating East Coast Floods of 1953 five people drowned in the bungalows in Ferry Road and the town was cut off for 48 hours. 

YOU CAN READ EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTS OF THE FLOODING IN SOUTHWOLD AND SEE MORE PICTURES BY CLICKING ON THE LINK AT THE TOP RIGHT OF THIS PAGE >>

A Natural Beauty

At the opposite end of the beach from where you are now standing, near the harbour mouth, is an area of dunes.

Sea pea on the dunes at Southwold

Sea pea on the dunes at Southwold

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit is working with a variety of agencies to try and restore the dunes to make sure they provide a barrier against the sea. Many plants here are low growing to protect themselves from the worse of the elements. They hug the ground and form a mat on the shingle or sand.

Typical of this type of plant is sea pea, birds foot trefoil and rest harrow - so named because it did just that. When horses were used for ploughing the rest harrow would snag the plough and prevent the ploughman from doing the job properly.

The dunes are also home to a wide range of birds, including the little tern and the skylark. The little tern is a very small pale-coloured bird with a black head. It comes all the way from Africa to nest along this coastline. It’s a rare bird and very vulnerable to disturbance, so if you’re walking along the beach or the dunes take care to watch out for any signs of nests.

Little tern, RSPB Images

Little tern, RSPB Images

Don’t forget as well to look out for amber. This is fossilised resin and you can find it all along the beaches in Suffolk. It has a similar specific gravity to coal and because it’s light it floats in the water. The best place to look for it is at the very top of the strand line. It’s a little yellowy coloured stone and looks vaguely translucent.

At the mouth of the River Blyth you can see across to Walberswick Marshes and you get a sense of just how vulnerable this coastline is to the sea and how easy it would be to flood.

There’s a ferry that goes from Southwold Harbour across to Walberswick. For a very reasonable price Dani the Ferrygirl will be pleased to row you across the River Blyth.

LISTEN/READ MORE ABOUT THIS STRETCH OF COASTLINE FROM MALCOLM FARROW OF THE SUFFOLK COAST AND HEATHS UNIT.  CLICK ON THE LINK AT THE TOP RIGHT OF THIS PAGE >>

So let’s start the walk and head up along the slope (North Parade) towards the town.

last updated: 22/04/2008 at 10:51
created: 05/07/2005

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Mr J.parsee
Over many years,the waves on the sea change the shape of countries as they build new land in some places and wear it away in others. waves ERODE parts of the coast and wash up the rock fragment on to the shore, forming new beaches. But even beaches are constantly changing because of the action of waves, winds and TIDES.

changing coastlines
Over many years,the waqves on the sea change the shape of countries as they build new land in some places and wear it away in others. waves ERODE parts of the coast and wash up the rock fragment on to the shore, forming new beaches. But even beaches are constantly changing because of the action of waves, winds and TIDES.

Damien Australia
I worked the Southwold beach last year and the BOGGIS bloke may of meant well but do you think all the trucks carrying dirt to the provsion of aiding the sea defence ws dirt only?The answer well is clearly all the rubbish which is washed up on the beach.Boggis get a grip on reality!

Beachman
Sadly the 'Boggis' works have badly spoiled Easton beach which is now disgracefully littered with rusty metal and plastic rubbish which was dumped there without planning consent. This should now be cleaned up at the expense of those who profited from the illicit dumping, for it is now a hazzard to bathers and beach users and will be carried towards Southwold by wave action.

old buck student
i recently went there for a field trip and mr.boggis defence is bein maintained and theres a hole in it. i love it there .its so peaceful.

Miss R.Lee
im doing some course work about suffolk's coastal erosion. if anyone can contribbute information i would be much abliged

Chris Hollins
I lived at Easton Bavents as a child, in three different houses - all of which have now disappeared over the cliffs. My grandparents retired there in the late 1940's but within a couple of years they had to move out of their bungalow and build another one about 100 yards inland. The next bungalow in line was the Chalmers Cottage, and there my mother, brother and I lived until the winter storm of 1953 when we were woken in the middle of the night and moved out for safety. The next morning looking north to Southwold the landscape had changed - the pier had been cut in half by the storm. We moved in with my grandparents in their new bungalow, which then was 100 yards from the cliff edge - but I visited last year (2006) and it too has now disappeared over the cliff. The Suffolk landscape then - and hopefully still now -was a delight. Under the vast skies, wildlife was all around us. There were sand lizards in the fields, (my Nan called them baby crocodiles) cinnamon moths, tiger moths, a myriad of butterflies, the woods to the north were full of daffodils, and primroses. The salt lagoons were the haunt of flocks of sea birds, porpoises swam past in the sea a few feet from the edge. My grandfather told me he had heard the bells of an acient church still ringing far out to sea (but there is a similar story about nearby Dunwich so it may be a fable) and now, sadly, it is my grandparents cottage which is forever under the waves. Surrounding us was the Boggis farm of Easton Bavents, which had its own electricity supply (5 amp only, no power sockets), and which he sold on to my grandparents. In the Chalmers Cottage however, we had no electricity. Our lighting and cooking was on paraffin lamps and oil stoves. Chris Hollins

joanne maraias
I once had a flat in Aldeburgh, but coastal erosion was threatning my home, so i moved

dex
hiya I remember working with a lad from Southwold at Heathrow in 1974 and he told me about finding amber, I want to visit in November, is there any particular area that one is likely to discover a little bit of history? Rgds Dex

Molly G.
I once had a flat in Southwold and every time I return from U S A we always visit to eat fish & chips and walk the town & pier. Miss you Southwold.

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