Good Energy is collaborating with award-winning environmental photographer Toby Smith to produce a series of photo-essays visualising climate change in the UK. In this three-part special, Toby focuses on how climate change is causing coastal erosion in the South of England. 

Climate Change is causing sea-levels to rise along with an increase in extreme weather events such as storm surges, where wind and waves are combining with seasonal high tides to cause coastal erosion and overwhelm structures. 

A historic cast-iron cannon at the King’s Bastion over looks modern works on the Long Curtain Moat in Southsea.

Britain’s coastline is an important area for business, residential and pleasure use. This photo essay explores two case studies where national and local authorities need to invest in hard defences to protect the coastline. 

Dawlish Railway Line 

The railway line that runs through Dawlish in Devon is the only train line connecting most of the county (including all of Cornwall) to the national rail network. The same severe weather responsible for the unprecedented erosion at the Birling Gap in February 2014, damaged the wall between the sea and the railway line. A section of the wall washed away, along with 80 metres of track, the platforms at Dawlish railway station and sections of the coastal path. 

Aerial view of the completed sea wall and promenade protecting the mainline at Dawlish, Devon from further coastal erosion.

Since then, world-leading experts in coastal engineering have carried out detailed studies on the climate resilience in the area, to help determine what is happening to the cliffs and coastline as well as designing long-term solutions. 

Aerial view of works to replace and repair the sea-wall of Dawlish station in Devon.

After these storms, Network Rail needed to repair a number of other sites along a four mile stretch of coastal railway, clearing hundreds of tonnes of debris and repairing more than 600 metres of sea wall. The new sea wall officially opened on 14 August 2015, stretching continuously for four miles protected from the sea at all tide levels.  

Aerial view of the works to reinforce and repair the Long Curtain Moat of Southsea with Portsmouth Harbour and Shipyard in the background.

Southsea Coastal Scheme 

The Southsea Coastal Scheme is the UK’s largest local authority-led coastal defences project, worth more than £100M. It will stretch for 4.5km from Old Portsmouth to Eastney, and help to reduce the risk of flooding to more than 10,000 homes and 700 businesses.  

Some coastal defences in Southsea date as far back as World War II, and these are currently reaching the end of their existing life. Combined with relatively high population density, it is deemed an important area for coastal adaptation and engineering to reduce future flood risk. 

Contractors work on reinforcing the Long Curtain Moat of Southsea.

There are over 9,000 buildings in Southsea that have limited protection and are at risk of flooding from the sea. The existing structures have experienced major failures in recent years and will continue to deteriorate leading to increased risks to property and lives. 

Long view of a shingle beach in front of Clarence Pier, Southsea, Portsmouth.

This new major project aims to mitigate increased risks of flooding from the sea, high tides and winter storms. The sea level rise and the increase in extreme weather events predicted over the next 100 years will continue to put coastal defences under increasing pressure, and in 2020 the government awarded nearly £100m of funding to the project. 

Read some of Toby’s other photo essays.