Sands of time are slipping away for England’s crumbling coasts amid climate crisis

A 2020 report by the Committee on Climate Change, on which Hall sits as an expert on coastal erosion and flooding, found 1.2m homes at significant risk of flooding and a further 100,000 subject to coastal erosion by 2080 – which, although it sounds safely distant, will be within the lifetime of most of those born so far this century.

Look carefully at the graphic to see the little pink spots along the Devon and Cornwall coast and read on – Owl

Andrew Anthony 

From a distance, the beach at Winterton-on-sea in Norfolk looks like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, with hundreds of grey bodies lying motionless across the sand. On closer inspection, it becomes clear they are not fallen soldiers but a huge colony of seals taken to the land for pupping season.

It’s an amazing annual sight that draws tourists and nature-lovers from across the country, but another process is taking place that is pushing people back – the growing threat of coastal erosion. Just along from where the armies of grey seals lay with their white pups, there used to stand the Dunes Cafe, a much-loved beach facility with a large and loyal clientele.

A year ago it was demolished to prevent its imminent collapse as a result of land lost to sea and storms. The ground where it stood is, like the cafe itself, no longer there. It’s a story of disappearance taking place all along the eastern coast of England, but particularly in East Anglia, that bulbous protrusion jutting into the North Sea.

That climate change and rising sea levels take their toll on the landscape is an old story, but one with an urgent new twist. “The sea level’s been rising since the last ice age, 20,000 years ago or so,” says Jim Hall, professor of climate and environmental risk at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. “And it’s going faster. We’re probably not seeing its effect very much yet on the coast, though we will in the future.”

A 2020 report by the Committee on Climate Change, on which Hall sits as an expert on coastal erosion and flooding, found 1.2m homes at significant risk of flooding and a further 100,000 subject to coastal erosion by 2080 – which, although it sounds safely distant, will be within the lifetime of most of those born so far this century.

Two years ago, the US-based climate change research group Climate Central went further. It produced a map showing areas of the UK at risk of being underwater by 2050. They included sections of north Norfolk, all of the Lincolnshire coast and much of Cambridgeshire, along with parts of East Yorkshire, Merseyside and the Bristol area. According to the group, this would happen even if “moderate” attempts were made to combat climate change.

Such predictions are based on highly complex, and disputed, modelling, yet there are significant warning signs that such an outcome is growing rapidly more plausible. Last month, scientists monitoring the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, an ice shelf the size of Great Britain, warned it is in danger of collapse.

“It’s being melted from below by warm ocean waters, causing it to lose its grip on the underwater mountain,” said Peter Davis from British Antarctic Survey and the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.

He said research suggested that the ice shelf will begin to break apart within two decades. Should there be a complete collapse, it would lead to a highly consequential rise in sea levels of 60cm. That may be a worst-case scenario, but it will almost certainly have a notable impact on the British coastline.

In a sense Norfolk is a real-time lesson in how weather and sea can drastically alter a landscape. After the Dunes Cafe was dismantled, a chef called Alex Clare set up a mobile silver Airstream cafe to cater to locals and visitors at the car park next to where the cafe once stood. He’s had to move the Airstream four times in eight months, as sections of the dunes on which the car park sits have collapsed into the sea under pressure from storms and high tides.

“In the last two weeks,” Clare told me, “a strip about as long as this caravan has disappeared. You hear about erosion, but you don’t know what it means, what it involves, until you witness it. And it’s a shock to see the physical transformation.”

The car park owner has tried to slow the erosion by laying down large concrete blocks on the beach, but it’s the definition of a losing battle.

Winterton’s coast possesses a bleak beauty, enhanced by the fact that the village sits back from the sea, behind a broad wall of dunes. By contrast, at Hemsby, a mile or so south, the town, with its amusement arcades and fairgrounds, stretches all the way to the shoreline. Four years ago, there was a line of seven chalets close to the edge of the sandy cliffs that drop down to the beach.

They all had to be knocked down as the land beneath them began to fall into the sea. The local council is looking at sea defences, but the only workable answer involves large-scale investment and a major process of sandscaping. That is what took place at Bacton, 15 miles north along the coast from Winterton.

A four-mile-long dune was built to protect Bacton Terminal, which supplies around a third of the UK’s gas and had been moving steadily closer to the cliff edge, literally and metaphorically. Designed by the Dutch engineering company Royal HaskoningDHV, it involved the placement of 1.8 million cubic metres of sand along the beaches near the terminal.

The design relies on the sand being shifted into place by wind, waves and tides. The Dutch are world leaders in land reclamation and protection, having over the years reclaimed more than a sixth of Holland’s landmass from the sea.

“In the long run,” says Professor Hall, “any coast protection is temporary. We’ve been doing engineering to protect the coast for a very long time. Almost half of the UK coast has some kind of protection – sea walls, revetments, promenades, that kind of thing. The Victorians were inveterate promenade builders.”

Such protections don’t stop the sea rising. They merely fix, for a while, the point of the shore profile. At Happisburgh, near Bacton, wooden revetments did that job, until they collapsed 20 years ago, leading to a sudden and damaging exposure to the sea.

“Once you lose [the protection], there’s a lot of pent-up erosion capacity,” says Hall.

Although there is growing media coverage of coastal erosion, it’s as Alex Clare said: knowledge of the thing isn’t the same as experiencing it. “There’s a bit more recognition that the sea level is rising fast,” says Hall. “But I don’t think coastal communities have really understood what the future holds.” He believes there should be an “honest conversation” between government, local government and the affected communities.

While the money required to protect cities like London and Hull will have to be found, that’s not likely with isolated villages. When I visited Norfolk last month, the locals seemed fatalistic or in denial, pointing out that the situation was worse somewhere else, either up or down the coast. As I drove back, it began to rain, and that night the weather deteriorated. The next day there was a large landslide at Mundesley, near Bacton, with a huge chunk of the cliff face collapsing on to the beach. Above it, houses stood on the precipice, their future looking about as secure as Norwich’s position in the Premier League.

As Pete Revell, station manager at Bacton HM Coastguard, said, Mundesley was viewed as stable by comparison with nearby Happisburgh, and the landslide came as “a bit of a surprise”. It certainly shocked local resident Antony Lloyd, who said he was “very nervous and agitated about any further incidents.” He was finding it hard to sleep and thought he would have to move.

Of course, the occasional landfall or loss of beachside chalets is hardly cause for national panic. But like canaries in a coal mine, the inhabitants of the villages strung along Norfolk’s shifting coastline are a warning of a worrying future. There are processes under way whose outcomes are unavoidable, and those that can potentially be arrested. But it will require unblinking foresight and long-term action, neither of which are our national strong suits.

If you take the path north from Winterton’s beach car park you come to the roped-off seal sanctuary. Beyond, seals and their pups lie still and vulnerable in the dunes, hundreds of yards from the shore, as if waiting for the sea to rescue them. And come it will, not now or next year, but much sooner than we care to think.

Tories ‘rewarding chums’ with peerages after donor handed knighthood

The Tories have been accused of “rewarding their chums” after a hedge fund manager who has donated almost £1.5 million to the party was handed a knighthood. 

By Redrow  (extract)

David Harding, the founder of Winton Capital hedge fund, has given £475,000 to Boris Johnson since he became prime minister in mid-2019. 

He was knighted in the new year honours list for services to philanthropy, after giving large sums of cash to the Science Museum and the University of Cambridge. 

Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chair, said: “It seems the Conservatives are ringing in the new year in exactly the same way they’ve seen out the old: by rewarding their chums with gongs instead of our key worker heroes.

“If you want Boris Johnson to recommend you for a knighthood, don’t bother working long hours on low wages to help others – just become a hedge fund manager and donate half a million pounds to the Tories.”

Four Conservative MPs received awards, including a knighthood for backbencher Bill Wiggin, whose work for offshore investment firms netted him £73,000 on top of his MPs’ salary. 

Robert Buckland, the former justice minister, was also knighted – as was Robert Goodwill, a former minister.

Harding was one of the biggest contributors to the Remain campaign during the Brexit referendum, to which he gave £3.5 million. ….

….The Cabinet Office said nearly one in five (19%) of the honours are for Covid-related service.

Don’t sell Dorset power to London, say campaigners

Countryside campaigners have condemned the building of a solar farm in Dorset to provide electricity that will be bought by the City of London.

Ben Webster

Almost 100,000 solar panels are being installed on 131 acres of farmland near the village of Spetisbury.

The City of London Corporation agreed last year to fund the construction by signing what it described as a “pioneering £40 million green energy deal” to buy all the electricity produced by the farm for 15 years.It said the 50-megawatt farm would provide more than half its electricity, powering its Guildhall headquarters, three wholesale markets and the Barbican arts centre.

The North Dorset branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) objected in 2019 to the application for South Farm and has criticised the deal with the City.

Rupert Hardy, North Dorset CPRE’s chairman, who lives a mile and a half from the farm, said: “That land should be used to provide food for Dorset, not electricity for London. We would far prefer energy produced in our county to be used here — especially when it is desecrating our beautiful landscape.

“The solar farm is within sight of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. What we would like to see is more solar panels on roofs.”

Hardy said he could not see the farm from his home but “it will impact on our amenity because we do walk as far as there”.

Voltalia, the company building the solar farm, said it would not require a subsidy and was being built mainly on lower grade farmland.

Simon Holt, Voltalia’s UK manager, said the solar panels would allow the farmer, who was in his sixties, to pass South Farm on to his daughter because it would provide an income allowing her to employ a farm manager.

“That will keep the farm in the family which might not have happened as she’s a theatrical cosmetic artist,” he said.

It was “unavoidable” that renewable energy facilities would be built in the countryside, he added. “It is important they are sensitively sited outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and national parks.

“We carefully consider the potential impact of a project and we certainly believe in this case the benefits vastly outweigh the negatives. The South Farm solar plant will be built in a dip in the landscape which is difficult to see from the surrounding area. It has grid availability which is hard to come by, so we had to utilise that.

Cop26 has made it absolutely clear that we must act on climate change. Unless we take action things are going to get really bad. This is part of that action — we are trying to lower the country’s reliance on fossil fuels to produce the energy needed. This will have a big impact on the future.”

Andrew Kerby, a local Conservative councillor, said the project was a “win-win”. He said: “The countryside and landscape are far from natural and static, no matter what the city folk think.

“The reality is that farming and the way we farm has changed. Farmers once harvested light to grow grain, now they harvest light to make electricity. For me, it’s a win-win. Solar provides an opportunity to provide a carbon free, renewable energy source that will go some way to ensuring that global warming is reduced and give our environment a chance to survive.”

Frightening new Covid data shows Boris Johnson’s omicron gamble may be about to implode

A roulette table does not offer bets on NHS blue but if it did, that’s the colour on which Boris Johnson has placed our chips.

By Paul Nuki, Global Health Security Editor, 

It’s an outside bet and, if it comes good, will provide a reasonable indication that we are over the worst of Sars-Cov-2 and the need for lockdowns, in this pandemic at least.

But the wheel is still spinning. Indeed, the ball was only really put into play eight days ago when we all got together for Christmas.

As Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer (and croupier) for England, put it on Saturday: “Data show one in 25 people in England had Covid last week, with even higher rates in some areas.

“The wave is rising and hospital admissions are going up. Please protect yourself and those around you.”

Whether the gamble will pay off is still unknown, but the odds have lengthened in the past few days, which is why tents are being thrown up in hospital car parks across the country.

The larger ones, known as Little Nightingales or “Boris wards”, are where improving but not fully recovered patients will be kept should hospitals start to overflow. The smaller ones are made by Nutwell Logistics and other purveyors of “soft-shell body storage solutions”.

Ahead of Christmas, there were reasons to be cheerful. South Africa’s hospitals had not been overwhelmed, case growth was slowing and doctors were reporting a milder illness.

Government scientists cautioned that Africa was not England, and that festive mixing could not be later undone, but the odds seemed pretty even when the Cabinet met on the afternoon of Dec 20 to spin the wheel.

Today, alas, things are not looking as good. The logarithmic charts of Prof Oliver Johnson, the Cambridge mathematician, show that hospital admissions are rising exponentially.

There were 2,370 admissions in England on Friday – up 69 per cent on the week – and the surge is now impacting not just London and the young but all areas of the country and all age groups. In the North East and Yorkshire NHS region, admissions have more than doubled in a week, up 117 per cent.

There is also nothing yet in the UK data yet to suggest that hospital stays are any shorter, and Covid occupancy of ICU beds has once again started to creep up. It climbed seven per cent in England on the week, with growth focused on London and the East.

But if there is a storm to come, it has yet to make itself felt. Front-line doctors to whom The Telegraph talked last week said they were seeing a “milder illness” and that, while things were busy, there was no crisis yet.

Dr Andrew Goddard, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, said staff absence was his biggest concern.

“It’s workforce, workforce, workforce,” he said. “I think omicron is hopefully going to be a relatively short sharp shock… Provided the number of hospital admissions as omicron hits the over-65s isn’t too bad, I don’t think there’s going to be as much of an impact on the services as a year ago.”

He added, however, that if the tents were needed it would signal an “emergency in extremis”.

Other doctors said bed capacity was the main problem because discharging frail patients into the community was proving difficult.

“The difference now compared to the first wave is that we haven’t emptied out the hospital in the way we did then,” said an intensive care consultant in the North. “We’re going into this potentially massive wave with 95 to 98 per cent bed occupancy, whereas the first time we only had 50 per cent of our beds occupied.”

About a third of Covid patients are in hospital “with” the virus rather than because of it, seen as a sign of hope by many. But doctors who talked to The Telegraph said “incidental infections” were making hospital capacity problems considerably worse.

“Once you have a ward that is infected with Covid you have to separate it both physically and in staffing terms from the wards that don’t have Covid,” said an intensive care consultant in the South West. “It makes it much harder to run the hospital – you’re effectively running two hospitals within one.”

Two other new findings will be worrying ministers as the roulette ball completes its final few loops of the wheel. Late on New Year’s Eve, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) released a report which showed that vaccine efficacy against hospitalisation was not as good as initially hoped.

Booster jabs work well for 10 weeks before starting to wane, but two doses of vaccine were estimated to have an efficacy of just 52 per cent after six months.

“These estimates suggest that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease with the omicron variant is significantly lower than compared to the delta variant and wanes rapidly,” said the report.

The UKHSA also found the virus itself may not be as mild as it was in South Africa, where night curfews and other restrictions to contain infections have now been lifted.

An updated analysis of over a million cases by the Biostatistics Unit of the University of Cambridge suggested the risk of hospital admission with omicron was approximately a third of that for delta in the UK.

All of which may explain why hospitalisations are outpacing three of the four projections produced by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in the run-up to Christmas.

Currently, the real-world hospital data fits only into the lower range of the modeller’s most “pessimistic” scenario – a scenario that could see hospitalisations spike in the next few weeks at more than double last January’s peak (see charts above).

It was this model that was so widely criticised by Conservative backbenchers in the run-up to the pivotal cabinet meeting on Dec 20, with Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, suggesting the assumptions behind it were unscientific and wrong.

As a nation, we must now hope that the non-interventionist instincts of Sir Iain and his colleagues were right. We really need that roulette ball to land on NHS blue this time rather than black.

Omicron surge NHS plans in place for Devon, and why we need them.

Boris Johnson “will wait until later next week to decide whether further Covid restrictions are needed despite one in 25 people in England being infected in the run-up to Christmas.

The prime minister wants more time as the festive break means recent data is not considered reliable enough to draw firm conclusions about the spread of the Omicron variant.”

Consider the chilling context:

Experts at University of Warwick estimate that even if Omicron’s severity is just 20% of Delta’s, the current plan B restrictions are likely to lead to a peak in daily hospital admissions of just under 5,000 a day in England in early January.

They found that a return to step 2 restrictions from the spring – with a ban on indoor mixing and the rule of six outdoors – could reduce the peak, but only if they started almost immediately.

If they kicked in on Boxing Day the restrictions would reduce the central estimate on peak admissions to around 3,000 a day.

[January peak in 2021 was 4,134]

But if the restrictions didn’t start until January they would come too late and there would be no impact on hospital admissions, the models show.

Similar conclusions were reached by a separate team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

The scale of the January peak looks now to be “baked in” whatever Boris decides. – Owl

Omicron surge NHS plans in place for Devon

Let’s hope they really are “robust” – Owl

Anita Merritt

Omicron surge NHS plans are in place in Devon to cope with a predicted peak of cases in mid-January, but Exeter’s Nightingale Hospital won’t form part of them.

Earlier this year, the Nightingale Hospital in Sowton was decommissioned and is currently being used to provide diagnostic scans to local people and train overseas nurses.

‘Robust’ plans are said to be in place for hospital and community services, if required.

A spokesperson for the Integrated Care System for Devon said: “The NHS in Devon is expecting to be very busy in January due to a predicted surge in Omicron cases, peaking in mid-January.

“NHS organisations and local authorities are working in partnership to prepare for the surge and have robust plans in place for hospital and community services, should we need them.

“This includes working closely with local care homes to maximise the temporary use of any vacant beds for people who need some additional support once they are ready to be discharged from hospitals when home-based care may not be available.

“We are also working with local hospices to make more capacity and support available.”

From the New Year, the Nightingale will host:

  • Two operating theatres for day case / short stay elective (planned) orthopaedic procedures.
  • High volume cataract and diagnostic hub for glaucoma and medical retina.
  • A community diagnostic hub to include CT and MRI.
  • An outpatient rheumatology and infusions centre.

A spokesperson for the Integrated Care System for Devon said: “Exeter’s Nightingale was decommissioned as a Covid-19 hospital earlier this year and was purchased by local NHS organisations to help tackle waiting lists across Devon and the wider South West region.

“The Nightingale Hospital Exeter is due to provide a range of orthopaedic, ophthalmology and rheumatology services, alongside additional diagnostic services, to local people in the New Year. The aim is to better protect these planned care services by separating them from our main hospital sites.”

In the meantime, Devon residents are being advised to get fully vaccinated by taking up the offer of a booster.

Extra capacity for vaccinations – including first, second or booster doses – has been made available across Devon, and people can book (online or by calling 119) or walk in to get their jab.

Pop-up sessions are also promoted on Devon CCG’s Twitter feed.