Looking back at the 2020-21 Storm Season

A coastal erosion update from SWCP National Trail Officer, Richard

As we collectively breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve finally made it to spring after a long and lonely winter, our National Trail Officer Richard Walton takes a moment to look back at the storm damage our Trail has endured this season:

Since the storm season started in early October, we have seen no less than six named storms hit the shores of the UK: Alex, Barbara, Aiden, Bella, Christoph and Darcy. Each one has brought a damaging combination of high winds, heavy rain, and big waves. This extreme weather has inevitably taken its toll on the South West Coast Path. 

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of weather events and related issues such as heavy rain, gales, floods, fog, heat, and drought. Our coastline and cliffs are very susceptible to this – being on the frontline as the storms arrive. 

We can now report that sections of the Coast Path have been lost to the sea in at least six locations across the Trail over the last five months. Some of this has been very dramatic such as the landslip near West Bay, Dorset (Highlands End) in November, and on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall (above Pentreath Beach) in February.  Added to this, numerous cliff collapses and landslips close to the Path are being carefully monitored; and surface water and mud is providing further challenges.

Recent incidents also include:

  • South Devon: collapse of a section of cliff and the Path near to Little Dartmouth (February 2021)
  • Plymouth: subsidence underneath concrete steps between Turnchapel and Mount Batten (January 2021)
  • Exmoor: flooding of the Path at Hawkcombe Water, Porlock (December 2020 and January 2021)
  • South Cornwall: cliff erosion taking out a couple of short sections of Path near Duporth and Charlestown (January 2021 – adding to an earlier issue from March 2020)
  • North Cornwall: cliff erosion requiring diversion of the Path near to Bedruthan (January 2021)

Photos kindly provided courteousy of Geoff Garfield and the National Trust.

The Trail Partnership has been able to minimise impact on walkers and runners, with local diversions put in place to bypass the hazardous sections of Path. This has been possible thanks to the hard work and support of landowners and highway authorities that we work with. In many cases, we are able to find suitable alternative routes that can be quickly agreed and made available – but occasionally, complex ownership and competing land uses result in long and lengthy diversions. Whilst we always strive to find a diversion that does not require any road walking, we have had to divert the route onto road in some locations such as Duporth, Cornwall and Plymouth, Devon.

As the number of extreme weather events increases and intensity worsens, our work to monitor erosion, report incidents, identify alternative routes, and raise money for remedial works becomes ever more important.  This work  is only possible thanks to the kind and generous support of our members, donors, sponsors, and fundraisers – thank you.  As always, please take care when out on the Path enjoying our amazing Coast.

To support our work caring for the Trail please donate to our Every Mile Matters campaign. Every Mile Matters aims to change perceptions about, and raise money for, the South West Coast Path National Trail’s future. The Coast Path is so much more than a footpath, it’s a cause worth defending against climate change: it provides health-giving happiness to millions of people every year, connects hundreds of coastal communities, helps the region’s economy thrive and is one of our most precious wildlife corridors.

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