Cliff collapse ‘like thunder’ as stunned beachgoers look on below

The incident happened at Jacob’s Ladder in Sidmouth at about 4.10pm today, Thursday.

Joel Cooper www.devonlive.com

This picture shows the dramatic moment a cliff collapsed at a Devon beach – while beachgoers looked on in shock.

The incident happened at Jacob’s Ladder in Sidmouth at about 4.10pm today, Thursday.

Glen Lear captured the picture above which shows a huge plume of dust coming from the base of the cliffs as it collapses.

You can also see people on the beach watching the spectacle intently.

Paul Clay also saw it happen while he was out on his kayak in the area. He said the landslide sounded like thunder.

Paul said: “It just missed people walking on shoreline at 4.16pm today.

“It happened at the cliff’s highest point with the narrowest (stretch of) beach.

The landslide near Jacobs Ladder, Sidmouth, which happened around 4.10pm (Image: Glen Lear)

“The second photo (below) shows the rubble when dust had cleared.”

The fall is the latest of many to have occurred at Sidmouth in the past few months.

Earlier this month we reported that East Devon County Council had warned people to stay off beach after five cliff falls in a month.

The aftermath of the cliff fall today at Sidmouth (Image: Paul Clay)

Last month, Sidmouth experienced three falls in the space of 24 hours, in addition to a further two which took place the following week.

The council complete annual cliff inspections at Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Sidmouth which include removing loose material and additional safety works such as installation of rock netting.

The Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan (BMP) scheme aims to reduce the risk of flooding to Sidmouth by maintaining the standard of defences along Sidmouth Beach, and to reduce the rate of erosion to the cliffs to the East of the town (and therefore the rate of exposure of the East side of Sidmouth to coastal conditions).

In response to whether or not there has been an increase in landslides, a council spokesman said: “It is difficult to say.”

Speaking earlier this month they said: “Cliff falls are a natural and unpredictable occurrence along the East Devon coast, this is because the rock from which the cliffs are formed is soft and therefore prone to rock falls and landslides, which can happen at any time, although heavy rainfall can trigger incidences.

“The BMP cannot, however, stop cliff falls. In fact, many of the recent cliff falls are beyond the area the BMP will protect, occurring further East on National Trust land.”

Despite the glorious sunshine the county has experience over the last few weeks, it is this warm and dry weather that has played a key role in the cause of the landslides.

A spokesperson added: “The main reason [for the cliff falls] is the prolonged dry weather we have had, which followed the wettest February on record.

“The extreme wet to dry condition of the cliff is the likely cause of the falls.

“However there are other factors in place such as the climate emergency and sea level rise.

“On land we own and manage there hasn’t been any increase in cliff falls compared to previous years.

“Along the whole coast there is likely to be a rise in the recording of cliff falls due to the good weather and increase in staycations, there are more people around the coast to witness any fall.

“In a normal year, plenty of falls would go unnoticed.”

“It is good practice when on the beach to stay well clear of the cliff base and to keep an eye out for fresh fall material or water running down the cliffs, which may indicate an area that is weakened and loose.”

The Coastguard advises that walkers should keep a distance away from the cliff, that is equivalent to the cliff’s height.

For example, if a cliff is 20 metres in height, pedestrians should keep 20 metres away.

Speaking earlier this month a Coastguard spokesman said: “Through the Sidmouth and East Beach BMP, we have plans to reduce the rate of erosion of the cliffs where property is threatened.

“The Sidmouth and East Beach BMP is a long term plan, and construction is likely to be a year or so away, we all hope the Covid-19 situation will be over by then, so it should not affect the scheme.”

Regardless of whether or not the cliffs are displaying signs that it may crumble, EDDC urge the public to keep their distance.

A spokesperson said: “You would be putting yours and the emergency services lives at risk.

“Please do not access Sidmouth East beach at all, and at Jacobs Ladder ensure you stay at least the same height the cliff is vertical away from the base.”

If a cliff fall does occur and you suspect that someone has been injured, call 999 immediately.