Retreating Coastlines

Happisburgh, Norfolk (c) Adrian Warren and Dae Sasitorn

Britain from the Air - Retreating Coastlines

100 metres of coastal erosion in 20 years leaves Happisburgh decimated

Once best known for its red and white lighthouse, 14th century church and the historic Manor House, Happisburgh is now renowned as one of the fastest stretches of eroding coastline in Britain. Erosion has brought the village, once well inland, to the very edge of the cliffs. While 250 metres was lost between 1600 and 1850, rates appear to have speeded recently, with more than 100 metres in the past 20 years.

Weak rocks

The soft sands and clays that make up the cliffs were dumped around a million years ago by the great ice sheets that swept across north, east and central Britain from Scandinavia. They are some of the UK’s youngest and weakest rocks, offering little resistance to the erosive power of the sea as it cuts away at the bottom of the cliffs, causing landslides in the weak rocks above.

Nor have the small rock bund, installed in 2002, and the older wooden baffles offered much protection. With sea levels set to rise as the sea warms and expands with global warming, there is little hope of a let up.

Who pays ?

Happisburgh village sits unhappily facing the full force of northeasterly gales. It lies sandwiched between strong sea wall defences protecting the (equally weak) coastlines of the tourist resorts of Cromer to the north and Great Yarmouth to the south. The 1,400 local residents argue for proper protection; conservationists argue to allow the coastline to retreat back to a position of natural stability. One way or another, a price has to be paid - the question is who pays it?


Click to reveal the full picture

  • share
Location: Retreating Coastlines, Happisburgh, Norfolk, NR12 0PN
Grid reference: TG 37938 31038

Britain from the Air - Retreating Coastlines credits

Thank you to -

Adrian Warren and Dae Sasitorn for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

The cliffs at Happisburgh hold the earliest known evidence of our human ancestors in Britain, nearly one million years ago