The East Riding coastline is approximately 85km (53 miles) long and is characterised by a diverse range of landscapes and habitats. The East Riding coast stretches from the chalk headland at Flamborough with its important landscape and wildlife designations, through the Holderness plain, subject to some of the highest rates of erosion in North West Europe, to the Humber estuary. The coast is punctuated by the resort towns of Bridlington, Hornsea, and Withernsea which are the main settlements, while numerous smaller communities also lie along its length.
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Natural England awards the Heritage Coast designation 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 Head is the most northerly outcrop of chalk in Europe, famous for its sheer cliffs, beautiful views and scenic village, while in summer the nearby Bempton Cliffs are home to over 200,000 sea birds. Flamborough has been internationally recognised as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
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 birds, on its western side. Spurn has been nationally identified as a National Nature Reserve (NNR).
Both of these areas have also been designated national Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Geological Conservation Review (GCRs) Sites and internationally as a Special Protection Area (SPA).
As well as scenic views and important wildlife habitats the East Riding Heritage Coast offers historic links to our Maritime past, which are important in preserving the region's cultural heritage, and are popular attractions for tourists and locals alike.
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The areas of the East Riding coast most affected by erosion are made up of soft clay deposits left after the last ice age. Coastal erosion is a dynamic process driven by wave action and tidal forces. This can be made worse by local conditions and weather events, particularly storms and high rainfall. Erosion releases sediment, which is then transported along the coast in a southerly direction. This sediment is then deposited to form beaches or washed to the south feeding Spurn Point, the Humber and beaches further along the coast. For information on the rates of erosion please see the 'Coastal erosion information' page.
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Recent historical records suggest the cliffs are eroding at a rate of between 1.5m to 2.0m per year. However, in any one period some locations will experience greater losses than others due to natural coastal processes. To discover the cliff erosion rates at over 100 designated points along the East Riding coast, visit the Coastal Explorer website:
Coastal Explorer (external website)
The designated points have been used since monitoring of the coastline began in 1951. Today, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology is used to update the council’s erosion monitoring data every six months.
Although there is a long history of rapid recession along the East Riding coast there is also a long history of human settlement. Human settlements have lived alongside erosion, with the consequent loss of at least 30 villages since Roman times. Settlement of the coastal zone continues in modern times and therefore dealing with coastal change is an ongoing issue for residents living in this area.
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Yes, sea levels are rising as a result of natural processes. This natural sea level rise is being made worse by climate change.
The Government's projections on sea level rise can be found on the DEFRA website:
DEFRA - UK Climate Projections (external website)
In the long-term climate change and sea level rise will pose a significant challenge to how the East Riding coast is managed. It is likely that increased sea levels will result in increased rates of coastal erosion on undefended stretches of the coast. There may also be a higher risk of coastal flooding in some areas.
In the future the council will seek to develop responses that are appropriate to the areas at risk, and achieve sustainability by working with, rather than against, natural coastal processes. This emphasis on coastal change adaptation is reflected in the Shoreline Management Plan. This document outlines a vision for the sustainable management of the coastline over the next hundred years.
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