Going to a naturist beach on a warm day is one of the pleasures in our lives right now and sometimes the water is warm enough to go for a dip. This pastime may one day disappear as the Essex coast slowly falls into the sea. In 2003 the once famed St Osyth beach road was washed away by winter storms and spring high tides so no longer can naturists drive to the naturist beach and leave their clothes in cars as they once did. Further up the coast at Covehithe in Suffolk the beach road has in parts crumbled away and disappeared into the sea. Steps are being taken in some places to slow this down but for how long this will help it’s just so hard to tell. Over the last 35 years, more than 1,000 hectares of saltmarsh have been lost in Essex due to coastal erosion. Erosion has taken place predominantly by lateral retreat of their seaward edges where a distinct saltmarsh cliff is attacked by waves. Areas particularly affected are the open coast and outer estuaries. Interestingly, vertical accretion on Essex saltmarshes has generally kept pace with sea-level rise. The most well-known and devastating flooding incident within East Anglia occurred on 1st February 1953, as documented in various sources including Greive, 1959.
In total, 307 people died, 24,500 houses were damaged and over 30,000 people were evacuated. Outside the towns and villages, thousands of animals drowned and great tracts of farmland were made infertile by the salt water. Millions of pounds worth of damage was caused even at 1950s prices. In 1953 there was no flood warning system and flood defence was organised by a number of river boards. Exceptional weather conditions, coupled with poor communications, meant that whole communities were given insufficient warning of the advancing threat. The 1953 East Coast Floods were a defining point for coastal protection in this country.
Sir Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister, declared the floods a National Disaster. A committee, called the Waverley Committee (named after its chairman Lord Waverley, who was better known as John Anderson of Anderson War Shelters fame), was set up to investigate the causes of the disaster and to recommend ways in which the East Coast could be better protected in future.The astronomical tide level at Burnham-on-Crouch during the 1953 flood was predicted to be 8.9ft, whereas the actual flood levels at this location were recorded at 14.75ft (Grieve, 1959) due to a combination of wind set-up (literally piling water against the shoreline) and intensely low atmospheric pressure. Extensive flooding occurred throughout Essex and records show (Snell, 1953) that 112 people died in Essex , with a further 13,088 displaced from their homes. The primary reason that the flood defences failed was due to overtopping, which resulted in 22,000ha of flooded land.Today, the Environment Agency has overall responsibility for flood defence and flood warning in England and Wales. It is provided with 24-hour forecasts of tidal surge and wave activity by the Meteorological Office Storm. The Tide Forecasting Service (STFS) was set up as a direct result of the 1953 East Coast Floods. You can see many of the sea defences built after 1953 as we did on our naked rambles around Tollesbury and Bradwel (where barges have been dotted along the coast) as well as the coastal erosion at St Osyth, Jaywick in our photos posted here.
(Parts of this post originally appeared on http://www.essex-estuaries.co.uk/ )