About our coastline

What is the East Riding coastline like?

The East Riding coastline is approximately 85 kilometres (53 miles) long and stretches from the chalk cliffs at Bempton to the coastal spit called Spurn Point.  Its natural features include:

  • The 120-metre high chalk cliffs, stacks, caves, and coves at Bempton and Flamborough Head which support breeding seabirds such as puffins, gannets and razorbills
  • The Holderness Plain, which is subject to one of North West Europe’s fastest average rates of coastal erosion: 1.5–2.5 metres per year
  • The mosaic of beach, mudflat, saltmarsh, dune, grassland, open water, saline lagoon and native sea buckthorn scrub called Spurn

The coastline supports a range of settlements and industries, including the resort towns and fishing industry hubs of Bridlington, Hornsea and Withernsea, traditional villages, and rural beaches.

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What are Heritage Coasts?

Natural England applies the "Heritage Coast" definition to stretches of beautiful, undeveloped coastline which are managed to conserve their natural beauty and, where appropriate, to improve accessibility for visitors.

The East Riding has two stretches of Heritage Coast:

  • Flamborough Headland is the most northerly outcrop of chalk in Europe, famous for its sheer cliffs, beautiful views and scenic village.  In the summer months, nearby Bempton Cliffs are home to over 200,000 seabirds.  Flamborough has been internationally recognised as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).  These designations combine to create a European Marine Site (EMS) which protects the internationally-important breeding seabird colony and habitats.
  • Spurn Point stretches southwards for approximately three and a half miles into the mouth of the Humber Estuary, with sandy beaches and the North Sea on its eastern side, and areas of saltmarsh and extensive mudflats which attract thousands of migratory birds on its western side.  Spurn has been nationally recognised as an SPA, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and a National Nature Reserve (NNR).
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What is coastal change?

Coastal change is defined as a physical change to the shoreline through any of the following methods:

  • Coastal erosion – a natural process that occurs as a result of waves, tides or currents striking the shore.  Sediment or rocks are washed away, typically releasing sediment into the sea and causing the coastline to retreat inland.
  • Coastal landslip – the downhill movement of unstable earth, clay or rock which often follows prolonged heavy rain or coastal erosion.
  • Permanent inundation – the flooding of coastal land on a permanent basis, which is usually caused by a tidal surge, a rise in sea level or managed realignment, and which changes the alignment of the shoreline.
  • Coastal accretion – the gradual extension of land by natural forces, such as the addition of sand to a beach by ocean currents, or the extension of a floodplain through the deposition of sediments by repeated flood events. 

The East Riding coastline is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion because it includes 48 kilometres of soft glacial till (clay, pebbles and sand).

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How quickly is the East Riding coastline eroding?

Recent records suggest that the East Riding coastline is eroding at an average rate of 1.5-2.5 metres per year.  It is important to note, however, that certain locations which are not defended can experience individual cliff losses of 20 metres or more due to natural processes.

To view recent erosion rates, please use the link below to access the Coastal Explorer website:

Coastal Explorer (external website)

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Are sea levels rising? If so, what effect is this having on the East Riding coast?

Yes. Sea levels are rising as a result of natural processes.

In the East Riding, land continues to sink very gradually as a result of the last ice age.  This process is called isostatic change and results in local sea level rise of around 3mm per year.  The rate of local sea level rise may increase to around 8mm per year when we take into account global sea level rise driven by climate change. The key factors in global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans, and the loss of land-based ice due to increased melting.

The Government's projections on sea level rise can be found on the following website:

 Defra - UK Climate Projections (external website)

In the future, sea level rise is expected to increase rates of coastal erosion along undefended stretches of coastline, and to increase the risk of coastal flooding in some places.  As detailed in the Shoreline Management Plan, we will respond by working with, rather than against, natural processes.

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