Erosion cottage demolition begins

The Oxford Times: A resident of the cottage on the cliff edge at Birling Gap near Eastbourne A resident of the cottage on the cliff edge at Birling Gap near Eastbourne

Preparations have begun to demolish a former coastguard cottage left teetering on the edge of chalk cliffs following erosion.

The end-of-terrace property at the top of Birling Gap, near Eastbourne, East Sussex, is just six inches (15cm) from the end of the cliff.

A five-strong team of demolition men has started four weeks' worth of work to bring down the privately-owned cottage before it is swept away.

The cottage once formed a terrace of seven ex-coastguard properties, built on the cliff top overlooking the English Channel between 1800 and 1820.

But due to the pace of erosion, two cottages had to be demolished in 1994 and in the early 2000s, and now a third one is set to follow suit.

Engineer Graham Kean, of Wealden District Council, said at least three metres of cliff has been lost along that section of Birling Gap in the past three months.

And he said that the property which will eventually be left at the end of the terrace will only have up to 10 years before it too could succumb to erosion.

Mark Hodgson, contracts director at Best Demolition - which is carrying out the work, said: "Recent collapses to the cliff have brought it much closer than it was previously.

"The house really didn't need to be brought down but because the erosion has been so quick, we have been brought in fairly quickly to carry this out.

"Today is a site set up. We need to get fencing up so that the public don't get too close, and do more work to the interior of the building so we can get scaffolding built to carry out rendering to the cottage that is going to remain - number four.

"To take a house down normally is a fairly simple process but in this environment, we have to totally change our methodology.

"Most of the work will be carried out from large cherry pickers, so we don't have to put anyone on the ground around the outside of the building, because the cliff could really go at any time.

"On a daily basis we will be checking the cliff for any additional collapse that may happen. We will have to cut through the building so that we can carry out the protection work to number four.

"Once that's done, we will strip the roof off by hand, bring all the walls down by hand and slowly, methodically work our way down from the top to the bottom."

Mr Hodgson said it was not possible to allow the cottage to fall away into the sea naturally because it is attached to other properties and would pose a danger to beach-goers below.

Evidence of the effects of erosion are clearly visible at Birling Gap, with a huge crack having opened up just yards from the cottages.

And large mounds of chalk cliff have formed at the base following recent collapses, which has led to the beach and the steps leading down to it to be closed off.

Recent storms have caused the kind of damage that the National Trust - which is responsible for this stretch of picturesque coastline - was expecting, but not for some years to come.

The organisation has warned that with more extreme weather predicted, the rate of change on Britain's coastline will speed up.

Hard defences, such as sea walls, are unlikely to be the best solution to coping with the forces of nature on our coasts, the Trust has said, and more long-term planning is needed to minimise the impact of the changing climate.

Other sites affected by the winter storms have included Mullion Harbour in Cornwall; important wildlife sites at Blakeney, Norfolk and Orford Ness, Suffolk; Murlough national nature reserve in Northern Ireland; and Brownsea Island, Dorset.

The National Trust owns more than 740 miles (1,191km) of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, around a 10th of the total coastline for the three countries.

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