A digger has started moving shingle from the western end of the main beach at Sidmouth

With Central Government funding (via the Environment Agency) of up to £100,000 in place, East Devon District Council has begun coastal defence beach recycling work at Sidmouth’s main beach.

As scheduled, work on East Devon District Council's six-week beach recycling project commenced on Monday 5 January and a digger has begun removing the surplus build-up of shingle from the western end of the main beach(over the Bedford groyne).

Dumper trucks will redistribute  the shingle at the eastern end (from the York groyne and beyond) travelling over a temporary ramp on the rock groyne opposite the Bedford Hotel and using existing concrete ramps at the Royal York.

Councillor Andrew Moulding, the council’s deputy leader and chairman of the Sidmouth & East beaches Beach Management Plan project’s  Steering Group involved in the long-term management of both of those beaches said:

We are taking the opportunity to use the Government’s  emergency funding scheme to finance the movement of beach  material, which will help to protect  Sidmouth’s sea wall from wave attack and reduce future shingle recycling costs.

This was a windfall opportunity for government funds that East Devon District Council could not afford to miss applying for (successfully), while waiting for the results of the Beach Management Plan (BMP), which was commissioned by the council for both Main Beach and East Beach on the recommendations of the Shoreline Management Plan (second version), as well as in response to public concern over cliff erosion at East Beach.

Addressing public concern

We are very aware of local anxiety over the erosion of the cliff at East Beach, which is why we have maximized community involvement in the project. We have representatives from at least 15 local community groups (ranging from Cliff Road residents to Sidmouth hoteliers) sitting on the steering group, which we set up in November 2012.

This is a much large number of local community representatives than is usual on projects like this. The next steering group meeting will be in February and there will be wider community engagement in June this year. So the views and concerns of all interested members of the public will be listened to and taken into account.

Maintaining beach levels

When the coastal defence scheme was built 20 years ago, it was envisaged that there would be periodic recycling of shingle to maintain an even distribution of shingle along the beach as per  the 1995 beach levels.

These are important defences that  have helped prevent storm damage and coastal flooding of the town over the past two decades. This interim recycling project will complement any future work carried out under the new Sidmouth & East beaches Beach Management Plan (BMP).

We know there is insufficient surplus material to return the whole beach to 1995 levels, because, as expected in 1995, some of the shingle has gone out to sea further along the coast, which is why East Beach cannot at present be recharged.  However, a series of further options will be explored as part of the current BMP project and in the meantime nature is taking its course and starting to return shingle to East Beach.

Thanks to monitoring undertaken by the Plymouth Coastal Observatory and East Devon District Council’s coastal management consultants, we have data on the beach profiles, which enables us to continually evaluate and assess the work required.

Common practice

Shingle recycling is common practice across the UK and has been identified as an effective method of maintaining coastal protection, while allowing natural processes to continue.

Shingle beaches take the energy and force out of waves, helping protect the sea wall and minimizing shingle and wave overtopping, which can cause not only damage to residential and commercial properties  in Sidmouth, but also flooding within the town centre itself.

Warning signs have been put in place along the seafront alerting the public to the shingle recycling work, which will involve closing sections of the beach for safety reasons.