The Guardian ‘This is a wake-up call’: the villagers who could be Britain’s first climate refugees
As sea levels rise, Fairbourne, sandwiched between mountains and the beach, is being returned to the waves. But where will its residents go?
It is an almost perfect spring day. The sky is milky blue and there is barely a ripple on the mirror-flat expanse of Barmouth Bay. The sunshine is warm and the mountains are beginning to turn from slate-grey to luscious green. Bev Wilkins, a former businesswoman, launches a ball down the beach for her beloved German shepherd rescue dog, Lottie. In a blur of legs and black fur, the dog dashes into the frothy surf. “It is a lovely spot when the sun comes out,” she says, welcoming her dripping pet back with an affectionate rub. “Horrible when it rains.”
This is how Wilkins, 67, expected to spend her retirement when she sold her family home in Warwick and moved to Fairbourne, in north Wales, in 2002. For many years it was blissful: she spent her summers swimming in the sea and drying off in the back garden. Winters were harder, although she always had the views of Snowdonia’s rugged slopes to lift her spirits. But if Wilkins lasts nearly as long as her mother, who is 98 and also lives in the village, she could be among the first residents to be moved out: Gwynedd council has decided it can no longer defend her home from rising sea levels driven by increasing global temperatures.
“This is a wake-up call for the country,” she says, making her way up the steep shingle bank to the wall that protects her white bungalow from the waves. “This is going to happen elsewhere. Sometimes you have to see someone else go through it – we just happen to be the first.”
In 26 years – or sooner, if forecasts worsen or a storm breaches the sea defences – a taskforce led by Gwynedd council will begin to move the 850 residents of Fairbourne out of their homes. The whole village – houses, shops, roads, sewers, gas pipes and electricity pylons – will then be dismantled, turning the site back into a tidal salt marsh. Click here to read more