After watching the scale of erosion that took place during the Winter of 2012, culminating in the shocking loss of beach and dunes in March and April 2012, I felt compelled to try and help raise awareness of the problem of our coastal erosion, and hopefully find some way of getting “the big guys” (whoever they may be) to step up and save our beach!
I did not know what to do, and my initial thought was a petition to hand to our local MP….however, I soon learned of what appeared to be a viable scheme – using large concrete blocks placed at the base of the dune line, to protect the dunes from the eroding qualities of wave action. I hurriedly put together a picture gallery in my pub, along with an outline of a plan, and my customers responded enthusiastically! As a result, a public meeting was called in our village hall. and it was packed! There was an enormous strength of feeling and a real feel of community spirit. One of the problems that we face is that the rights to the beach are in private hands, and do not belong to the Crown. This in effect means that the Crown is not responsible for the beach, and we as a community can not sit back and watch our coastline disappear. We needed to stand up and take action! Although Great Yarmouth Borough Council are not responsible for the beach, The Leader of GYBC agreed to help with information and gave us open access to our Borough Engineer, and indeed has been very accommodating.
Sadly, although the beach is privately owned, we still need to have planning permission to do any coastal defence work…think of it as though you own your home – you still need to have local authority permission to carry out any alterations! However, getting permission to work on coastal defences is much harder than a bedroom extension! A full feasibility study is needed, to include any effect that they may have on neighbouring areas, wildlife, etc. This is a very long process and could take more than a couple of years. Recognising this issue, GYBC has allowed us to trial a scheme, with a review after one year. It took rather a lot of to’ing and fro’ing between the Council and ourselves to find something that was both financially achievable and that would get the necessary approval and also offer a chance of protecting our dune line. Thus the concrete block scheme was finally ratified.
Thankfully, many people joined Save Hemsby Coastline, and a great deal of fundraising took place through the summer months – largely co-ordinated by the amazing Naylor Sisters, Ann and Joan and ably assisted by Bill Tilley. This combined with the formation of the Save Hemsbys Coastline Facebook page (set up kindly by Adrian Dickinson) has helped to keep our profile high and the funds increasing!
We had to wait unti after the busy summer season to start our defence scheme, and in September 2013 The Watling Charity kick-started the project. Initially 70 blocks were placed on the dune line on either side of the Hemsby Gap. Although they were not the ideal shape, they did indeed show signs of success, and it seemed that we had cause to celebrate…. and then disaster struck again. Severe weather conditions hit on October 10th, and once again our beautiful beach was depleted of sand, and access was once again an issue.
Even worse, the first Marram home had now become too dangerous to live in, and our first resident had to leave their home.
However, we were still trying to find a viable way to produce these concrete blocks, when I managed to coerce a local building company into project managing for us – and Sean and Alan Roe of A & S Builders have been amazing. I was also lucky to be able to get another newly local set of brothers to help them, Alan and Lee Jones of East Coast Garden Services. Together they spent their evenings making the frames into which to pour the concrete!
We had also by now been able to secure permission to try another form of defence – steel gabion cages filled with rock – an idea researched and managed by local Hemsby resident Ben Phelan.
We had also been able to interest National BBC The One Show in our story, and had 10 days in which to organise a 2-day action of making these defences as well as hosting a fundraising night for them to film. Once again the amazing Hemsby Spirit shone through, and we had a tremendous first day with about 40 to 50 people volunteering on the beach! We had gabion cages in place, concrete blocks in place, and a fabulous fun evening in The L A Lounge…. until Jonathan Thompson came to call us all to action – another home was going into the sea. What followed was such an unbelievable community coming together, with only one thought – help rescue as many belongings as possible from the stricken homes before they slipped over the edge!
Having a BBC film crew with us meant the whole world saw the distress and devastation that occurred that evening, and has helped to really raise awareness of coastal problems faced not only by us here at Hemsby, but also all along our coastline. This is a serious issue that really needs Government intervention. It should not be left to individuals, or even to local councils to protect. This is a national issue, and should be treated as such. It is said that Hemsby raises an annual revenue of £80 million in tourism, money that tourists bring with them and spend all over our county. Even if you do not believe that people’s homes are viable to save, or interested in saving our beach for generations to enjoy, isn’t it worth saving such a vital economy? The amount of investment needed now is insignificant compared to the possible losses in the future, and the economic hardship that could be faced. We have an outstanding natural asset, and it is so worth fighting for!