Can local people remember how the beaches and cliffs looked in the past?

Positive and informed discussion at second meeting of Sidmouth & East Beach Management Plan steering group

A diverse cross section of local community representatives, coastal engineers and environmental experts, together with East Devon District Council officers and councillors met yesterday at the council's offices, as part of the Steering Group for the Sidmouth & East Beach Management Plan (BMP) project, to hear coastal management experts CH2M Hill Halcrow's presentation of the four baseline reports (Coastal Process, Coastal Defence Works, Environmental Issues and the Economics), which will form the foundation of a new BMP.

The highly detailed reports were the subject of much energetic and positive discussion by the steering group, which includes among its members experts from the Environment Agency and Natural England. The main emerging decision, agreed by all the group members, was that the reports needed more local evidence about the coastal processes to be incorporated to inform options for future action.

In view of the important nature of this additional information, the Steering Group agreed that extra time must be provided to give the public a chance to respond to the call for local material and to allow the project's consultants CH2M Hill Halcrow, sufficient space to analyse any new intelligence. The final baseline reports will be sent to the Steering Group members once the scientific data and local information sources are complete and integrated into the evidence base.

Councillor Andrew Moulding, the council's deputy leader and chairman of the Steering Group said:

We are at a stage in this project when we need the local people of Sidmouth to be our eyes and our ears. We have already received excellent anecdotal evidence from the local community and members of the steering group, but we need additional relevant information - the missing pieces in the jigsaw - which will help support the data we have already collected.

Local information is vital as it will help us to create more detailed timelines for critical issues, such as the rate of erosion, and will ultimately help us to agree the short, medium and long-term management of the beaches. This evidence will enable our consultants to finalise the baseline reports and then produce a range of options to help us move forward. The steering group will be meeting again in the early autumn to consider these options.

I am delighted at the positive spirit with which the steering group approached this meeting and I would like to thank everyone for their contribution to the discussions. There was a great deal of extremely complex data to consider and we are indebted to the amount of time which our local community representatives took to read the reports - they provided us with invaluable insight and local knowledge.

Steering Group's call-out for local information from the public

We need to assemble as much reliable evidence on historic erosion rates as possible. Our project team requires details about the form, nature and position of the coastline within half a mile of Sidmouth and the river Sid over previous decades, or even centuries, as long as the information can be quantified and is reliable.

For example, evidence with dates that can show or describe the coast and how the coast appeared in the past will be of immense benefit to the project. Useful material that we would like to see includes:

  • Photographs (including holiday snaps with the cliffs and beach in the background)
  • Postcards
  • Old letters
  • Newspaper articles
  • Books
  • Plans
  • Diaries
  • Reports
  • Historic maps
  • Paintings
  • Drawings
  • Any relevant old documents

In addition, if anyone has kept a record of the impacts of storms on the beaches/cliffs/coastal defences, then this would also be extremely useful.

Personal experience

Specifically, we are hoping that local people can come forward with their memories of:

  • Can you remember the esplanade without railings? You would have been able to walk straight off it and onto the beach, which was level with the esplanade.
  • Did you ever step straight from the training wall (beside the River Sid) on to the beach, which used to be level with the top of the wall?
  • Can you remember when the steps from Alma Bridge were level with the beach? Or, how many steps did you have to walk down to reach the beach? Did you ever note when the number of steps increased?
  • Distance from the beach to the steps at Alma Bridge? How far did you have to walk?
  • The beach is currently 10ft below the service entrance to the railway tunnel. Was there a time when you were able to walk straight off the beach and into the tunnel?
  • Back garden measurements for properties in Cliff Road. Have you kept a record of the decreasing length of your garden? Any information on the tunnel? Where and when was it exposed by the sea and collapsed?

Deadline for sending information and who to contact

Please could you email information/scans of photos/documents to: or send information by post to: Annette Ladbrook, Secretary to Environment, East Devon District Council, Station Road, Sidmouth, Devon EX10 8HL.

Please ensure that you send us copies of any precious original documents, as we cannot be held responsible for any lost documents. Alternatively, if you bring your documents/photos in to the main reception at the Knowle it should be possible to scan them, subject to prior arrangement with Annette Ladbrook. Tel: 01395 516551.

We need to receive information by: Tuesday 31 March 2015