By Paul Homewood
You will no doubt remember this BBC report from last December, which specifically blamed coastal erosion in Norfolk on climate change:
I filed this complaint at the time:
The report states”But punishing weather conditions linked to climate change have eroded so much of the village’s soft sandy rock “
In fact coastal erosion has been taking place in Happisburgh for thousands of years. There are well established historical links for this fact, for instance:
The British Geological Study in their 2006 study on Happisburgh erosion states:
“It is likely that the Norfolk cliffs have been eroding at the present rate for about the last 5000 years”
The recent increase in erosion is due to fact that sea defences built in the 1950s, which worked well, have lately fallen into disrepair.
Your claim of “punishing weather conditions” also does not stand up to scrutiny. The Met Office have recently said that “There’s no evidence of a trend in storminess because of climate change [in the UK]”:
And the Met Office’s own charts clearly show that the frequency and intensity of storms in the UK has actually declined since the 1990S:
Sea levels on the East Coast have been rising at a steady rate since the mid 19thC. There is no evidence of recent acceleration.
About half of the sea level rise along the Norfolk coast, about 1mm a year, is caused by the land sinking, something which has been occurring since the Ice Age:
Nowhere in the article is there any mention of the above facts.
Consequently readers will have been badly misinformed, and led into thinking that coastal erosion is all due to modern, man-made global warming.
The first response was obviously written by the office junior, which I refused to accept. I have just received the second formal response:
I appreciate you may not believe there is a link between coastal erosion and climate change however many scientists and experts would disagree. Within the article, we quoted a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as saying: “We recognise the threat from climate change and sea level rise, which is why we are investing a record £5.2bn over six years in around 2,000 flood and coastal erosion schemes to better protect communities across England,”
The LSE’s Grantham Research Institute released a paper on this in 2021 which says: “Climate change is causing sea level rise, which is increasing the risk of flooding around the UK’s coastline. It is also increasing coastal erosion. Both of these hazards pose a risk to people and the environment. …The major impacts of sea level rise occur during high tides and storms, causing flooding along coastlines and estuaries.”
The LSE paper further says: “Sea level rise can also increase coastal erosion because waves can extend further up and along beaches and cliffs. Erosion is happening faster along coastlines made from softer sediments, notably on the East coast of England”– which is where Happisburgh is sited.
You have cited a BGS survey from 2006. As you suggested, it does indeed say “It is likely that the Norfolk cliffs have been eroding at the present rate for about the last 5000 years…”
However it goes on to say: “…future predictions of sea-level rise and storm frequency due to climate change are likely to have a profound impact on coastal erosion and serious consequences for the effectiveness of coastal protection and sea defence schemes in East Anglia in the near future.”
It also states: “Sea-level rise and climate change, including increased storminess, may also increase the rate of erosion.”
The BGS survey was conducted 17 years ago in 2006, since when knowledge about climate change has moved on. What it predicted then does indeed seem to be happening. We reported in our article that During the last 20 years, 34 homes have crumbled into the water in Happisburgh because of coastal erosion.
I am sorry if you were disappointed by our coverage however I do not believe there has been any breach of our Guidelines relating to editorial values and standards. I would however like to thank you for taking the time to write in and share your views with us.
So I have now sent my complaint up to the Executive Complaints Unit, with this reply:
Your response implies that the rate of sea level rise and storminess have increased since 2006, when the BGS stated that “It is likely that the Norfolk cliffs have been eroding at the present rate for about the last 5000 years”
There is no evidence for this. In terms of sea levels, the rate of rise has actually slowed in the period:
You quote DEFRA on the future threat of sea level rise, but the data shows that has not happened yet.
And as my original complaint noted, the Met Office have recently confirmed that storminess has not increased either. Their charts actually show a decline since the 1990s.
Your comment that “During the last 20 years, 34 homes have crumbled into the water in Happisburgh because of coastal erosion” is utterly irrelevant, as homes have been lost to the sea for centuries.
Above all you offer no evidence that the rate of erosion has increased since 2006. This is obviously crucial to your claim that climate change is having an increased effect on erosion.
Unless you can prove that the rate of erosion has increased since 2006, the BGS statement remains true, that “the Norfolk cliffs have been eroding at the present rate for about the last 5000 years”. This in turn therefore invalidates your report’s claim that “punishing weather conditions linked to climate change have eroded so much of the village’s soft sandy rock that her house is now the last one before the cliff edge”.
Whatever role modern climate change may have played, it is a fact that most of the erosion is due to geological forces which have been taking place for thousands of years.
It is grossly misleading not to mention this fact. It is also inaccurate to claim that climate change is having an increasing effect, as your reponses state.