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We can not conserve our current coast

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 14, 2014

By Eva Jones

  • Porthcothan, near Padstow, top two pictures, where a distinctive arch was lost, and below Mullion harbour, which takes a battering each year

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Nature may be allowed to take its course in parts of the West Country's coastline which has taken a pounding in the recent storms.

High seas and heavy rain have left a trail of destruction in their wake, wrecking stretches of coastal paths and battering rock formations.

One high-profile casualty has been the iconic rock arch at Porthcothan Bay in Cornwall, which crumbled under a barrage of waves.

But according to Natural England and the National Trust, an urgent discussion is required on whether it is worth reinstating breached sea defences.

Natural England, the organisation dedicated to conserving and enhancing the natural environment, said there may have to be an acceptance of a changing coastline.

Rob Cathcart, senior specialist of the freshwater environment and flooding, said it was a question of what was sustainable in the long term.

"The truth of the matter is that there will be more flooding in terms of coastal and rivers with the effects of climate change and it does beg the question of how sustainable long term is our management of the coastline?

"In some places where there are people and houses there will be on ongoing need to protect people and property.

"But along parts of the coast we have to look at long-term sustainability and it might be possible in some places to let nature take its course."

At Mullion Cove on the Lizard in Cornwall, the prospect of a full return to nature is very much a reality.

The pretty inlet faces full west into the prevailing winds and its Victorian harbour is regularly thrashed by storms meaning a repair bill which has topped £1 million in recent years.

The National Trust, which owns the harbour, has warned in the past that if severe storms continue to inflict damage, it will eventually be necessary to call a halt to further work.

This would mean that in the future, the cove may once again look as it did in 1890 before Victorian builders got to work. Overall, it is a conversation which may have to repeated elsewhere, said the National Trust.

"While in many places our coastline has shown itself to be remarkably resilient, there are places where changes are so dramatic that returning things to their former state seems increasingly unobtainable," a spokesman for the National Trust said.

The trust removed sea defences at South Milton Sands in Devon before the storm.

It is thought some defences are counter productive as they prevent the movement of sand and sediment around which is part of the naturally changing coastline.

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