When William the Conquerer peered across the English channel from Saint-Valery, Pevensey Castle looked to be the shortest and easiest channel crossing to take the fort. If he tried to do the same today, he would have a long walk from his boat – the castle is now the best part of a mile inland.
On the other hand, Dunwich in East Anglia was once the capital city of the Kingdom of the East Angles and an international port equal in size to that of 14thc London – today it is all but washed away. I can still remember, as a child, walking along Dunwich beach and finding human remains from the churchyard that was one of the sea’s last victims…
We are an island, and we have been changing shape since the year dot – you could walk to Paris once upon a time, were you so minded. The Doggerbank is all that remains of Doggerland. Wales is rearing up out of the sea; parts of North Wales may end up 10cm higher over the next 100 years, whilst parts of East Anglia sink by 5cm. All this occurring for centuries, long before global warming, global cooling or whichever is fashionable this year.
That doesn’t stop the Guardian and its merry band of lentil-munching readers from attributing the news that some of their week-end retreats in Whitstable and Poole may end up with indoor salt-water swimming pools, where once their tousle haired children played with ecologically correct toys, being absolutely the fault of the rest of us for using too many aerosol hair sprays – and mighty disgusting it is that we aren’t all chipping in with compensation for their cliff top idyls with granite topped kitchens and temperature controlled wine caves.
Properties worth over £1bn will be lost to coastal erosion in England and Wales over the next century, with no compensation for homeowners, as it becomes too costly to protect them.
Cornwall is expected to lose 76 homes – that is the same Cornwall where ‘hardworking families’ with ‘reddened cheeks and rough hands’ have been priced out of the housing market by well-heeled Londoners seeking a second home. So whose loss is it that we should be weeping over?
Lentil-munchers are divided – “As far as bankers are concerned…let them drown!” is liberally sprinkled amongst the “We should not regard the problem of all the people at risk as being down to their own fault” – it’s been a long time since I have heard such a clarion call for personal responsibility in the Guardian!
It is that ‘£1bn’ headline that has fooled them – £1bn divided by 7,000 homes works out at around £150,000 a throw. We are not talking about the second homes of London bankers! This sounds more like the sort of chalet bungalow that was built by the thousand for aspirational taxi drivers in the 60s to retire to at Jaywick-on-sands. Since the figure quoted is also for a hundred year period, we are talking about 70 houses a year. Not that I am trying to make that sound of no consequence, anyone losing their home is entitled to be devastated – I just find it strange that Guardian readers should have so little concern for 70 ordinary people losing very ordinary homes and instead engage in a bout of spittle-flecked Libertarianism.
“Welfare should be for used only for people who through no fault of their own are severely disadvantaged, not for people who buy houses on flood plains or eroding cliffs.”
“If you choose to live anywhere near the sea, especially on the east coast and can’t afford insurance for coastal erosion or haven’t taken it out then the government is not there to take financial responsibility for you, I’m sorry.”
“If you can’t afford said insurance or if no one will write you a policy then that is telling you something. As in “don’t live there”.
“Why not expect people to make rational decisions or face the consequences if they don’t.”
“We should not be bailing out rich stupid people who ‘want a nice view’ whenever a flood comes along.”
Sheesh! These are the same people who daily scream for more food banks?
They also manage to turn this into a political issue, having noted from the graphic that ‘no intervention’ is planned in predominantly Labour areas, whereas the plan is to ‘hold the line’ in the south East of England:
“Is it just me, or does that map give the distinct impression that the Southeast is getting the most support, whilst most of the rest of the coastline is being left to manage with minimal support?”
“The first year of this parliament had a high flood defence budget set by the previous government, which was subsequently cut by about a quarter by the coalition.”
If I remember correctly, Mrs Thatcher wanted to let the sea reclaim the land – or would cheerfully have let those imaginary bankers drown, as the Guardian readers wish – whereas the previous Labour government were putting a third more into flood defence than the nasty Tories. Confusing isn’t it?
Sure enough, the Queen got it in the neck eventually; “The Crown owns all the foreshore – shouldn’t they be paying to save these houses”. Well, actually, they do put quite a lot into flood defences.
The Dutch would laugh at us, allowing resources we have to crumble into the sea. The Fens around Norfolk and Lincolnshire were once below sea level and drained by the Dutch several hundred years ago for farming and today kept from being overwhelmed by an expensive pumping operation. At the time, the draining was imposed on communities who had established livelihoods based on peat and reed marshland. It was companies of London capitalists who wanted to drain the land for agriculture.
In my neck of the woods, Grade 1 and 2 agricultural land will be at risk as cliffs on the coast continue to erode – it has always happened due to the tides and currents that batter the East Anglian coast. There are some monumentally ugly concrete defences protecting those cliffs and the Norfolk Broads from being overwhelmed by sea water. The Labour government proposed to allow the defences between Hemsby and Happisburgh to fail which would have flooded the fresh water habitats with sea water – ruining grade 1 agricultural land. This isn’t merely an issue of ‘bankers holiday homes at risk’, but the line should be held in most places, simply because allowing areas to be polluted by sea water will make draining and protecting others near impossible.
All those lentils need somewhere to grow; it is thought that medieval farmers in the south of England grew lentils to put in their daily pottage. Seed relics have been found and it is possible that climate change ended the practice. Perhaps if climate change makes it possible to grow them again, those Guardian readers in their London garrets might not be so bitterly resentful of the cost of saving that agricultural land.
Or they could continue to import their lentils:
India ranks near the top among Third World agricultural exporters. While at least 200 million Indians go hungry.
(Ms Raccoon, who has recently bought a tidal riverside property in East Anglia, and loves it to bits, must admit to having a dog in this fight. I have elected not to insure it, and to spend the money on sensible building works designed to minimise any loss should/if it does flood!)
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun…….