Seven Sisters cliffs and coastguard cottages Eastbourne, East SussexCredit:Rex Dr Hurst’s team estimated the pace of the erosion by examining the amount of an isotope of beryllium in the rock platform under the cliffs. This isotope is formed in the top few metres of rock when it is struck by cosmic rays from space and the longer the rock is exposed, the higher the concentration. This enables the estimation of the speed of the cliff’s retreat.Dr Dylan Rood, from Imperial College London, one of the co-authors, told the BBC: “The coast is clearly eroding, and Britain has retreated fast. A nearly tenfold increase in retreat rates over a very short timescale, in geological terms, is remarkable.”The UK cannot leave the issue of cliff erosion unresolved in the face of a warming world and rising sea levels. Cliff erosion is irreversible; once the cliffs retreat, they are gone for good.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. The iconic chalk cliffs on England’s south coast are eroding 10-fold faster now than they have over the past few thousand years, a new study has revealed.Researchers have observed that the erosion rate of chalk cliffs at Beachy Head and Seaford Head in East Sussex over the past 150 years has been of 22 to 32cm a year. They have calculated that in the past 7,000 years it was just two to six centimetres a year.The acceleration, timed thanks to a technique that tracks changes in rocks when exposed to energetic space particles, would be the result of thinning of cliff-front beaches, worsened by changes in storm intensity.The researchers, led by Dr Martin Hurst from the University of Glasgow, predict that climate change will accelerate the erosion process. “We were very surprised at the stark difference,” Dr Hurst told the Guardian. “If you have a nice thick and wide beach in front of a cliff, that reflects wave energy. But the beaches have all but disappeared.”The scientists believe the study, published in the leading American journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will help make better predictions for the future about how climate change will affect coastlines.”Our coasts are going to change in the future as a result of sea-level rise and perhaps increased storminess, and we want this work to inform better forecasts of erosion,” Dr Hurst told the BBC.The research was centred on East Sussex and the iconic cliffs at Beachy Head and Hope Gap which were originally laid down 90 million years ago.Coastline management near Seaford, which saw the use of groynes or the shifting of sand and gravel to try to protect specific beaches, has led to the cliffs to the east, including Beachy Head, being starved of sediments.“We need to be aware that when we manage the beach in one place, there is a knock-on effect somewhere else,” Dr Hurst told the Guardian.
Englands iconic white cliffs eroding 10 times faster now than over past