Posted by: somersetcoast | November 16, 2012

Porlock Bay – changes still occurring!

I had the opportunity to visit Porlock a couple of weeks ago and bumped into local resident Maureen Harvey, she’s very kindly sent me some photographs of the changes that occurred here earlier in the year. I hope you’ll agree these are some fantastic photographs which I thought it was worth sharing with you.  They show the breakthrough in the shingle ridge from above and also from within the breach itself, some pretty stunning photographs!

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Posted by: somersetcoast | August 9, 2011

A problem shared…

The Somerset Pathfinder requires the project officer to discuss an emotive and divisive subject; coastal change. The aim is to openly talk about the possibility of someone coming to terms not only with a shoreline they love altering forever, but also the increased chance they will lose their home. This is a challenging task. To help alleviate worry and encourage involvement in the project the key is to listen to the concerns raised by affected residents and recognise that their knowledge of the situation is just as valid as any coastal professional or expert.

Harbour and Turkey Island Cottages

Porlock Weir Harbour and Turkey Island Cottages: How do you start a conversation where you need to discuss the possibility of losing these houses to the sea?

 

Pathfinder has attempted to take this approach throughout its duration; listening to concerns and taking appropriate action. We have offered advice and support where people have suggested they might not understand a certain term or process, but we have not assumed we know the best course of action for an area. This combined with a general friendly attitude has led to the project officer becoming a trusted presence in each of the target communities.

Alongside this, we have highlighted the shared nature of the issue. Rising sea levels and an increase in storminess are a common problem to anyone living near the coastline, be it in Somerset, the wider UK coastline or any coastal location worldwide. Using exisiting examples of changes occurring at the coast offered the chance for residents to ask questions and investigate the possible outcomes of localised coastal change.

Fortuitously for the Somerset Pathfinder, such an similarity is occurring within the county. The Steart Peninsula project is a managed realignment project where 500Ha of arable farmland is to be actively flooded by the massive tidal range of the Severn Estuary. Residents there had obvious concerns regarding how the landscape might look following the inundation. As previously mentioned in this blog, such a dramatic change has already happened at Porlock Bay in 1996 when the shingle ridge breached and ever since a saltmarsh habitat has developed.

Porlock Bay 1946

An aerial shot of Porlock Bay taken in 1946. The shingle ridge here is complete and the dashed yellow line roughly highlights it's position.

 
Porlock Bay 2003

An aerial shot Porlock Bay taken in 2003. This photo, taken at a similar height, shows the changes wrought by the constant erosive action of wind, wave and tide. Click on the images to enlarge and improve the detail.

Recognising the similarities between the sites, Pathfinder organised a trip to Porlock marshes with Steart residents. This gave them the chance to experience first hand the changes they might expect to the landscape surrounding their village. On hand was Nigel Hester of the National Trust and Tim McGrath of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Nigel was present during the Porlock Bay shingle breach and answered questions about the development of the saltmarsh and how the storm changed the area for good.  Tim will be managing the new Steart wetland habitat and offered expert advice regarding the species of bird likely to be attracted to the new habitat and how the area will be maintained.

Steart residents Porlock Marsh visit

Nigel Hester of the National Trust explains to Steart residents how the breach occurred at Porlock Bay. Photo: Tim McGrath, WWT

Although the Steart site will be far larger than the Porlock Bay breach site, the residents could gauge how their local landscape might look in the future. They also had a chance to learn what stages of change they will experience. It was made clear that such change takes time, and for a while the flooded land will become a quagmire as the salt intolerant plants begin to die off and silt is deposited. However, due to a combination of factors particular to the Severn Estaury, such as the huge tidal range, the presence of other well established salt marshes nearby and the contiual mixing of the sea water between these sites, the saltmarsh should develop relatively rapidly on Steart Peninsula.

In addition to this, the Steart residents also met up and discussed their concerns with Porlock Weir residents. Through the sharing of local knowledge and experience the Steart residents felt an improved confidence in what to anticipate for their local landscape. This inter-community link up is a pioneering step in communicating coastal change and we have found it immeasurably beneficial when engaging with local residents. With social media becoming an increasingly familiar tool for communication, we hope that the sharing of knowledge and experience online can further benefit a wider audience.

Posted by: somersetcoast | August 2, 2011

Berrow Sand Dunes

The sand dunes at Berrow beach in Somerset form a vital natural sea defence. They run along the top of the beach for approximately six kilometres and help protect a vast swathe of low-laying and flat landscape; the Somerset Levels. This landscape is a rish and diverse mix of habitats and ecosystems, home to many natural spectacles. 

Starlings at Glastonbury Tor

Hundreds of thousands of Starlings congregate in a murmur above the Somerset Levels. In the backgorund is the silhouette of Glastonbury Tor. Photo: Lynne Newton

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Levels were once largely inter-tidal. Since Roman times the land has been drained and reclaimed, leading to the sea gradually being pushed back and more arable farmland created. Due to the slow pace of change, contemporary generations become quickly accustomed to the shape and location of a coastline and so build static infrastructure around what is in reality a dynamic feature.

It is for this reason that the sand dunes are of utmost importance. Without them the area would be inundated on every spring tide, or more often if a high tide were to combine with a storm surge. It is essential that the dunes are properly monitored and maintained on a regular basis. This management should preferably be carried out by those who know and understand them best; local residents.

The beach is visited every day by people living nearby, either to walk their dog, exercise or simply to take in the beauty of the coastal landscape. They are more likely to notice the subtle and seasonal changes that follow every high tide or storm event. One local group has recognised this unique trait and has begun monitoring the dunes in their spare time.

Berrow Conservation Group dune monitoring

The Berrow Conservation Group measure the natural movement of the dunes every six months.

The Berrow Conservation Group is made up of local voluteers who meet on a monthly basis. Depending on the time of year, the group engage in practical aspects of conservation such as clearing Berrow village pond of litter and invasive species, surveying the flora and fauna of the local dunes and converting a Second World War pill box into a bat sanctuary. In the colder months of the year, they maintain their knowledge and share information with meetings at the recently refurbished Berrow Village Hall where they often receive talks from local experts covering a wide variety of conservation and wild life matters.

Over the last 18 months, the group have been monitoring dune erosion along the section of beach that runs adjacent to Berrow Local Nature Reserve – just under 700m in length. The group benefit from a line of fence posts which were erected to stop cars which often drive on the beach from approaching too close to the dunes. Using clearly marked posts at 10m intervals the group measure the distance from the posts up to where vegetation is growing on the dunes. This task is done every six months and so far three sets of data have been collected. A key success of the group’s admirable work was prompting Sedgemoor District Council to erect sandfencing along a major blowout or severly eroded section of sand dune. This work was documented in Somerset’s Changing Coast film made by Pathfinder.

Berrow Dunes

Erecting sand fencing at Berrow beach. The work was prompted by the excellent monitoring work undertaken by Berrow Conservation Group.

 
The sand fencing was erected in January of this year. Due to the dry spring in the UK combined with favourable winds, the sand fence has exceeded everybody’s expectations and collected sand at an amazing rate.
 
 
Sand fencing

January 2011 - Sand fencing erected

 
 
Sand Fencing 2

April 2011 - Sand accretes behind the sand fence, helping to re-establish the dune as a natural sea defence.

 
 
Sand Fence 3

June 2011 - Just five months after installing the sand fence at Berrow Beach the sand has accreted to a height above the posts of the sand fence.

 
The real test of will come as the tourists flock to the beach this summer. Often the dunes are played in or impromptu paths are cut from the holiday parks through the dunes to the beach. This added erosion only serves to undermine the free service the dunes provide, leaving the area at increased risk from coastal flooding. Through activities such as the dune monitoring initiative it is hoped the importance of the dunes can be conveyed to local residents and visitors alike who may not realise their casual actions can lead to destructive consequences.
 
Posted by: somersetcoast | June 29, 2011

Bleadon Levels

In 1999, a section of land near the mouth of the River Axe in Somerset owned by Wessex Water was purposely inundated by seawater. Since then, the twice daily tidal regime of the Severn Estuary has introduced colonising salt marsh flora to permanently alter the appearance of the area. Following this the salt marsh would attract the fauna best suited to the newly formed habitat; waders, wildfowl, water voles and otters. Higher up the food chain the site attracted Buzzards, Sparrow-hawks, Kestrals and in the winter Short-eared Owls.

Bleadon Levels saltmarsh

Bleadon Levels saltmarsh. The newly created saltmarsh attracts a wide range of flora and fauna. The masts of yachts sitting at anchor can be seen jutting vertically from the River Axe. In the distance Brean Down rises from the coast.

 
The project was established by Wessex Water to mitigate the contruction of sewage treatment works nearby. With input from relevant partners, it was agreed to move the existing sea defences further inland and breach the old defences to allow tidal water to encroach onto arable farmland. In effect, this was returning the land back to what it used to be; the majority of the Somerset Levels is reclaimed saltmarsh, largely drained and managed in a way to ensure more farmland for grazing and growing crops is available. The process was first started by the Romans and was expanded throughout the Middle Ages.
 
This has resulted in the coastline being further out and more pronounced than it would be if left to natural process. In effect, human influence has pushed the coastline seawards. The evidence for this can be seen from drill cores which reveal inter-tidal sediments below current day dry land; as far inland as Glastonbury and Langport.
 
Somerset Levels - 5000 BC

Somerset Levels - 5000 BC. Before the Somerset Levels were drained, tidal waters would have reached far inland. The area is extremely flat and low-laying so seawater would have reached Glastonbury and Langport.

 
Today, and in the future, human influence will continue to directly and indirectly impact the appearance of the coastline. Scienctific concensus is that global atmospheric tempertures are warming. This will lead to an increase in sea levels, as much from thermal expansion as from ice water melt, and an unaviodable retreat of the coastlines. This is already being experienced in hotter areas of the planet, nearer the equator, showing the complexity of the issue as sea levels will not rise at the same rate globally. A unifying problem however is that low-laying areas will be most affected.
 
It is liklely that managed retreat programs, such as this one, will become increasingly adopted worldwide. Using successful examples like this will help communicate with affected parties how sometimes the option to work with nature rather than battle against it can often lead to win-win and far more economic solutions. The creation of new wetlands will buffer wave energy and so provide a natural defence against the increasingly extreme elements. They also provide the foundation for an diverse and threatened ecosystem to flourish.
Posted by: somersetcoast | June 10, 2011

Preparing for change

Somerset is no stranger to coastal flooding. Great storms have rolled in time and again, battering the shoreline and the communities who live alongside it. Local residents know only too well the risks involved with living near such a volatile area. Their resilience coupled with their love of the coast helps them to tolerate the occassional squall. However, the scientific censensus is that conditions are to become worse in the coming decades.

Burnhal shelter

Burnham-on-sea seafront was badly affected by the 1981 storm; will this become a regular occurrance? Source: burnham-on-sea.com

With this in mind, Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) have been produced. SMPs address the entire English and Welsh coastline. They consider a number of risks associated with potential changes at the coast such as day-to-day coastal processes along with sea level rise and a predicted increase in erosion and storminess.  To help make decisions on individual coastal areas, the SMP divides the coastline into sections and each of these are allocated one of four management policy statements:

  • Advance the line
  • Hold the line
  • Managed realignment
  • No active intervention

There is a wealth of information online relating to SMPs. For more information regarding how the SMP process works and what it means to specific coastal areas, visit the Environment Agency website. For management policies relating directly to the Somerset coast visit the North Devon and Somerset Coastal Advisory Group website.

Of course in Somerset, a key issue for the SMP to bear in mind is coastal flooding. The risk arises from the low-laying or flat topography of many areas, such as the Somerset Levels and Porlock Weir. A storm surge, or even particularly high tide alone can cause significant damage and inconvenience. This is not to mention freak events, such as the 1607 event which struck the Severn Estuary, which many believe was a tsunami resulting from an earthquake off the eastern coast of Ireland.
 
 
Flooded streets of Porlock Weir

A bus struggles through the flooded main street of Porlock Weir. This is an example of a high tide alone causing disruption; what would happen if this was combined with a storm surge?

 

Positive adaptation

 
To help cater for a predicted rise in sea levels and buffer wave energy, some sections of the coast are adopting a policy statement of ‘managed realignment’. This normally entails moving existing sea defences further inland and allowing coastal features to evolve naturally to the changing conditions. This policy of ‘working with nature’ is now the preferred management policy of the National Trust and can be demonstrated at Porlock Bay. This approach avoids a potentially expensive ‘King Canute’ situation and often leads to wider benefits, especially in terms of ecosystem services and habitat creation.
 
 
Porlock Marsh as viewed from Rawles Seat

Porlock Marsh in west Somerset. The shingle ridge atop the beach was breached in 1996 and following regular tidal inundation the farmland behind has developed into a richly diverse salt marsh habitat.

 

Future Developments

 
A section of the Somerset coast is playing host the largest managed realignment scheme in the UK. Steart Peninsula has the potential to become an ideal location to create extensive wetlands that will both benefit local communities in terms of providing a natural flood defence and many species of wetland birds who are losing out on their preferred habitat as a result of coastal squeeze. The Somerset Coastal Change Pathfinder project is working with the local community at Steart and the surrounding area to ensure their input is acknowledged and they are fully informed as to the plans for the landscape. Residents are given the opportunity to contribute and influence decisions at public consultations and technical meetings.
 
If the scheme goes ahead it will be a major alteration to the landscape. It will create 500 hectres of new salt marsh habitat making it the most dynamic coastal management site in the UK. Something on this scale can be difficult to visualise, but a slight advantage is that nearby at Bleadon Levels Wessex Water and Avon Wildlife Trust have been overseeing a managed realignment site for the past 10 years. I visited the site this week and will post a blog about my experience…
Posted by: somersetcoast | June 2, 2011

Monitoring Somerset’s Coast – Call for Photos

What made the coastline the way it is today?

Everybody enjoys sharing a story of an experience they had at the coast. These stories may involve an extremely high tide changing the appearance of a familiar section of coastline or a huge storm with crashing waves. With this in mind, the Somerset Coastal Change Pathfinder Project is attempting to gather a historical archive of local people’s knowledge and experience of changes at the coast. For example, this could include old photographs, video footage and stories that help show how the area has naturally changed throughout time or of how human intervention has influenced the area.

 

Come and visit us!

The Somerset Coastal Change Pathfinder will be hosting a stall at the forthcoming Berrow Village Fayre on Saturday 11th June 2011 at Berrow Village Green.

We would like to encourage local people to bring along any interesting photos and stories of the coastline to Berrow Village Fayre. This might include old black and white photographs, Polaroid’s, or videos showing features of the coast which are no longer there and whatever you think will be of interest. The photos will be collected in an online resource and key events which have shaped the coastline in the local area will then be made available to everyone, leaving a lasting legacy for current and future generations. 

This photograophic record of coastal change between Burnham-on-Sea and Brean Down will also be used to help inform a new beach management plan for this area. We hope local residents and visitors can contribute with photographs and stories that help explain how and why this section of coastline is the way we see it today.

 

Invaluable information

There are many examples of how old photos can help inform coastal professionals how a coastal area has changed throughout the years. For instance, at Porlock Weir the shingle ridge that makes up the majority of the adjacent bay has been continually changing shape since its formation following the last Ice Age.

The picture below shows an unfortunate stag being landed on to a section of Porlock Bay named Oyster Perch. This of course is an interesting feature of the picture in itself, but if you take a look in the background, you can clearly see that there is a drop from the road down to the beach.

Landing the stag

Porlock Weir residents help offload a stag that was most likely shot on Exmoor. This image was taken from a postcard kindly donated by Jane Harding of Porlock Weir.

Today, much of the beach is level with the road. The pebbles that make up the beach have built up to such a degree that in many parts it stretches away from the road for many metres and has plants growing on it – a process which takes many years. The most likely cause for this is an increase in waves pounding the pebbles further up the beach, forcing them to pile on top of each other.

Porlock Weir Shingle Ridge

The same shingle ridge as it appears today. The pebbles have built up over time and are now level with the road and have become covered in vegetation.

 
 

What other changes have occurred?

These changes often occur in a subtle and indiscernible way; building up slowly with the flow and ebb of each tide. Sometimes an old photograph, 8mm cinefilm or even a painting, can provide powerful evidence and help convey the message that the coast is a dynamic place and looked strikingly different in the past.

Take a look at the two images below. The first was taken in 1946 as part of an aerial photography survey. The images are openly available to the public from the Somerset County Council Archive.

Berrow Beach 1946

Aerial shot of Berrow Beach taken in 1946. The yellow dashed line marks the approximate extent of the sand dunes at this time.

 

Compare this with a photo taken of the same location from the same height in 2007; the difference is obvious and surprising. It appears the coast has gradually moved out towards the sea as sand has built up in the sand dunes.

Berrow Beach 2007

Aerial shot of Berrow Beach taken in 2007. The yellow dashed line remains in the same position, dramatically demonstrating the extent to which the sand dunes have moved seawards.

 

Images such as these raise many interesting questions; What could have caused this to happen? Is this trend likely to continue in light of predictions of sea level rise? Should the movement of the dunes be monitored and recorded? It is hoped that with a Beach Management Plan in place these and many other questions will be answered. Local residents will be better informed and prepared for any future changes that will occur along this stretch of the Somerset coast. Furthermore, ideas, information and ongoing input from the public will be actively encouraged so this is the perfect opportunity to show your interest and get involved.

 
Posted by: somersetcoast | May 24, 2011

Showtime!

Somerset’s Dynamic Coast

Videos are quickly becoming the norm when conveying information online. YouTube is now the second most popular search engine. An organisation’s website without an accompanying video can today appear as rare or even antiquated. The sharing of information and the associated technology has moved on at a blistering pace. 

Yellow Pages

When was the last time you used a hard copy of the Yellow Pages?

 
 
With this in mind, the SCCP Project Steering Group made the decision early on that a project video was to be produced. It was to include the key aims of the project and would be a valuable resource at public drop-in sessions and conferences. The video needed to be a quick and engaging introduction to the SCCP Project and highlight how the public could get involved.
 
 
Following a submission to tender, it was unanimously decided upon to offer the contract to Kevin Redpath of Redpath Producitons. Kevin had done previous work in relation to climate change adaptation and had clearly gone the extra mile in his submission by researching the target communities involved in the project. An example of Kevin’s work, including a beautiful opening shot of Porlock Bay, can be viewed here:
 
 
 
We felt a mixture of local knowledge and coastal expertise would best deliver the message of coastal change at the target areas; Porlock Weir, Steart, Brean and Berrow. Starting with Porlock Weir, we contacted the historian Philip Ashford. Philip has written an excellent chapter on the early development of the harbout at Porlock Weir in the highly informative book A Maritime Histrory of Somerset.
 
A Maritime History of Somerset

A Maritime History of Somerset: Philip Ashford has written an excellent chapter on the development of the harbout at Porlock Weir.

 

Alongside Philip we interviewed Derek Purvis, a local resident and volunteer curator of the Porlock Weir museum. Derek maintains the museum which charts the daily life in the village over the last hundred or so years and the intriguing organisations that are linked to it. Derek has lived near Porlock Weir for over 40 years and has noticed some huge changes to the landscape in that time. His energy, knowledge and enthusiasm for the area was truly inspiring and comes across brilliantly in the completed video.

There are a host of other contributors to the video to whom we are hugely grateful and indebted. I will be writing a blog post outlining the background to each contributor to ensure their help is fully recognised. In the meantime, please take a look at the video below and let us know your thoughts!

Somerset’s Dynamic Coast from Kevin Redpath on Vimeo.

Posted by: somersetcoast | September 10, 2010

Hot off the Press!

A challenge facing all community engagement projects is achieving and maintaining buy-in from your target audience. In our case, the residents of Porlock Weir. I had been visiting the village on a regular basis and was becoming well known amongst the community. Not a hugely difficult task considering there are roughly 65 properties and the close-knit nature of the people means any news travels fast; this is the original social network! The large majority were very welcoming and interested in the project and took to calling me ‘Davy’ as in ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’, what with my constant talk of possible inundation. However, there remained an undercurrent of doubt that such an event could occur at this idyllic spot; that the harbour faced away from the preveiling direction of storms from the west; that sea level rise was in fact a myth and not much to worry about.

 To address these doubts and as a means of helping residents and those living near Porlock Weir to fully understand the situation the village is in with regard to coastal flooding, the project team decided to produce a suitable scenario that would depict a severe strom impacting the village. After deliberations over the format (including highly technical 3D modelling and overlaying OS maps with properties most at risk) we decided upon using a mock newspaper. The newspaper was to report on a future event where a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances results in a severe coastal flood impacting Porlock Weir. It was important that the paper was as realistic as possible and not overly dramatic, and so we incorporated input from relevant coastal experts and local knowledge. We felt that this chosen format would attract the most attention and would lead people to both read the paper and discuss its contents. The intention was that together with discussions at a series of public drop-in sessions, the newspaper would be the starting point to prompt community adaptation and self help planning in the knowledge that public funding would not be available for future improvements

However, ahead of this work, we needed the buy-in of a vital landonwer.  Porlock Weir is unusual in that the entire village is owned and managed by a single individual; Mark Blathwayt of Porlock Manor Estate. It was imperative that the project had the backing of Mr. Blathwayt or else it could fail before it had even begun. Luckily, Mr. Blathwayt is an entirely approachable and open character. When we contacted him to discuss the project he quickly grasped the relevance of Pathfinder’s work in the area and gave it his immediate support.

Porlock Weir at high tide

Porlock Weir at high tide. There is no sea defence protecting the proprties adjacent to the harbour, only a short wall of about three feet in height.

 

With this essential backing and working alongside Lara Ball, Principal Environmental Scientist at Black & Veatch, I arranged for key people linked with Porlock Weir to be interviewed. These included representatives from the Environment Agency, Exmoor National Park, the National Trust, Porlock Visitor Centre, Porlock Weir Traders Association, Porlock Parish Council and, of course, Porlock Manor Estate.

Prior to the interviews, Black & Veatch produced a scenario map showing the areas of Porlock Weir that would be affected by a coastal flood event. This was shown to all interviewees to prompt comments and recommendations for possible corrections. These were all recorded and incorporated into the final scenario tool.

Porlock Weir Coastal Flood Scenario Map

Porlock Weir Coastal Flood Scenario Map. Click on the image to expand it to full size.

 
 
The finished piece benefitted from a powerful photoshoped image of the local hotel, Miller’s at The Anchor,  inundated with water and it certainly grabbed the attention of local residents! To encourage local buy-in, I visited each of the traders and asked for leaflets or flyers which we then used as advertisements in the mock newspaper. This helped maintain a distinctly local feel to the newspaper.  
 
The Coastal - Front Page

Mock Newspaper - The Coastal. This fictional newspaper with the print date 7th February 2014 was hand delivered to every property in Porlock Weir and West Porlock. To view the full newspaper click on the above image.

 
It is difficult to gauge the success of the newspaper in terms of it encouraging debate amongst the community. I know from visits following its distribution that the majority of residents enjoyed reading about their village in this fictitious publication. What is certain is that it can be regarded as having a ‘coffee table’ presence; the newspaper will exist in the community and continue to keep the issue of coastal change in the minds of those potentially at direct risk.
 
The next step for the project was to develop a realistic Adaptation Action Plan alongside the community…
Posted by: somersetcoast | September 9, 2010

Community-based Coastal Monitoring

The Coastal Change Pathfinder Project is keen to start a coastal monitoring scheme. As we visit each of our target areas we are finding that many people are interested in this area of research. We often hear comments from people explaining how they notice subtle changes at a beach, dune or shingle risge following most high tides. It normally takes a person is very familiar with an area to notice these changes. This is why local knowledge is invaluable when tracking and recording coastal change.

One potential coastal monitoring scheme that could be started is one using digital photography. By taking a photo from the same location at the same coastal feature at regular intervals, a clear picture of change can be recorded. This has been done with dramatic results in colder climates:

Of course, we are unlikely to produce something as impressive as showing glacial movements, but the same principles could be applied to the movements of coastal features, i.e. beaches, dunes and shingle.

If you are interested, are already involved in a coastal monitoring activity or have an idea as to how to best monitor coastal features, get in touch and let us know if we can help in any way.

Posted by: somersetcoast | September 1, 2010

Meeting the community

Porlock Weir Community

Now that I had had my geological introduction to the Porlock area, the next step was to meet the community.

Before I met with residents and business owners at Porlock Weir, Project Manager Rebecca Seaman and I arranged to have an agenda slot at a meeting of the Parish Council of Porlock. This was to ensure the local Councillors were aware of and fully understood the aims of the Pathfinder project. Following a 15 minute presentation, there were some difficult questions asked.

The main cause of concern was the cost of the project. This was alleviated somewhat when we put the current situation regarding sea defences into perspective. For instance, it had recently been announced following a review of the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) that there would be no further funding made available to build or maintain existing sea defences for the section of coast including Porlock Weir. In short there had been a policy announcement of ‘No Active Intervention’ with immediate effect. The fact that Pathfinder was working in the area to address issues associated with coastal change should be regarded as a positive and progressive step.

The second query discussed concerned the use of coastal environmental contractors. We had announced during our presentation that Black & Veatch would assist us in our community engagement strategy and develop an Adaptation Action Plan. This was decided because an experienced consultancy such as Black & Veatch have access to far better resources than the Pathfinder team has based at County Hall in Taunton. Black & Veatch are able to produce realistic scenarios and recommend tried and tested approaches to help ensure community buy-in and contribution to any plans developed.

Of course there were still some at the meeting who had misgivings and they are entirely entitled to their opinion. It was my job to persuade these people, along with as many others as possible, to get behind the project and secure some positive outcomes for Porlock Weir. It seemed like a difficult task for a still wet behind the ears graduate…

Rainbow at Porlock Weir

Picture 1: Welcome to Porlock Weir! this isn't a Photoshopped image, this actually happened when I first visited the village.

 

Following the meeting, I was approached by Joe Roake, the Liaison Councillor for Porlock Weir. Joe kindly offered to show me round the village and introduce me to the key community members and business owners. Likewise, a Porlock Weir resident was also in attendance and he also offered to show me around his house which made up part of Turkey Island to show where previous flood events had affected his property.

Turkey Island, Porlock Weir

Picture 2: Turkey Island, Porlock Weir at a high spring tide. The three cottages that make up Turkey Island sit apart form the main village. On one side is the harbour, which can be seen in the foreground of this image, and on the other is the shingle beach.

 

The majority of people I met during my first few weeks visiting Porlock Weir were highly interested in the project and were very accommodating to my enquiries. Acting on their kind nature and generosity of spirit I asked questions regarding their experiences of flooding at the village. It transpired that not many had experienced a major flood event. The worst storms in recent memory were in 1990 and 1996. Both storms struck mid-tide, but still caused considerable damage.

Storm aftermath 1990

Picture 3: Porlock Weir; shingle on the road following the storm of 26th February 1990. Photograph courtesy of Joan Ireland. Photograph courtesy of Joan Ireland.

Considering this, it seemed pertinent that the first message the Pathfinder project had to deliver was the risk of severe flooding at the village. This would be done alongside Black & Veatch and the chosen form of communication would be in the format of a fictional local newspaper. The paper needed to be hand delivered to each property in Porlock Weir and the neighbouring village of West Porlock firstly to raise awareness of the situation at the village and secondly to encourage discussion regarding adaptation to such events, especially as they are predicted to increase in frequency as a symptom of a warming climate. 

Although many people acknowledged the prone status of Porlock Weir, not many people fully embraced the idea that they were at immediate risk. The one weak point that was highlighted by long-term residents was the unprotected harbour entrance, which faces north-east; directly opposite from the preveiling south-westerly winds that bring the heavy storms up from the Atlantic. However, both the storms that struck Porlock Weir in 1990 and 1996 both produced winds that at some point during the storm blew directly into the harbour. Luckily this did not happen at high tide. What would happen given the following circumstances; a low pressure causing a higher than predicted tidal surge, combined with a storm surge flowing north-east with stong winds backing it? This is what was we attempted to describe in our fictional newspaper.

Engulfed wooden sign

Picture 4: A wooden sign is completely engulfed by shingle following the 1996 storm at Porlock Weir. Photograph courtesy of Joan Ireland.

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