Snettisham, Norfolk Seven Sisters, East Sussex Hunstanton cliffs, Norfolk
Pagham, West Sussex Pebbles Sand dunes

Britain's oldest and hardest rocks lie in the north-west, with the softer ones in the south and east. These softer rocks, including chalk and clay, are the basis of lowland. This often means there is little in the way of cliffs on the coast, as is the case around much of The Wash. Those which there are, such as in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Sussex and Dorset, are usually pretty small compared with the ones further north and are much more prone to erosion by the elements, with landslips and rock falls common.

Erosion of rocks over a lengthier period is also the cause of pebbles and shingle, with Dungeness, Orfordness, Chesil Beach and Pagham prime examples. Sand has the same source, with such locations as Sandwich Bay and east Dorset among the most celebrated dune systems.

Erosion, fast or slow, will always be with us. So will attempts to beat the sea by constructing defences to protect communities (less popular with the Environment Agency than formerly), or by dredging sand to replace amounts displaced by wave motion on beaches, especially in Dorset and the east.

These methods may be humane and economically essential in terms of maintaining tourism levels. They may even be successful in the short term, though their effects on the fragile marine environment are uncertain.

One thing's for sure. As the Americans found with their levees along the Mississippi a few years ago, subverting the natural processes of moving water ultimately is a policy doomed to failure. The sea is as sure-fire a winner now as when Canute supposedly tried to stop it.

Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.

In 2013 I published My Side of the Fence - the Natural History of a Surrey Garden. Details may be found, and orders placed, via this hyperlink My Side of the Fence. In November 2015 Surrey Wildlife Trust published the atlas Soldierflies, their allies and Conopidae of Surrey, jointly written by David Baldock and me. Details are on this web page: Atlas.