The reality of the narratives from local people in coastal communities has been a theme in this article and also the recent EFRA Report. Business as usual is becoming far from acceptable.
Tom Wall, Observer ‘Retired trawlerman Armand Toms runs his finger along a knee-high mark on the diesel tanks used to refill the 50 or so fishing and tripping boats moored in Looe’s harbour in south-east Cornwall.
“The sea got up to here in 2014,” says the 65-year-old, before raising his hand towards the top of the tanks. “If we get a metre more by the end of the century – is anything going to survive here?” Toms, an independent councillor, who represents Looe East on Cornwall council, has seen the town flood throughout his life.
But now he fears for its very future because the frequency with which the sea spills over the top of the harbour walls and bubbles up through its mine-waste foundations is increasing year-on-year.
“I’ve lived with storms all my life. When I was 12 or 13, I’d be out on fishing boats in all kinds of weather,” he says. “But it floods more now because of the ferocity of the storms we get.”
Looe has the dubious accolade of being the most frequently flooded town in the country. According to the Environment Agency, the historic centre of low-beamed inns, old fishermen stores and merchant houses typically floods four to eight times a year, putting at risk more than 200 properties on every occasion. Yet the agency estimates the town’s plight will get worse as rising global temperatures increase sea levels and whip up ever more devastating storms, with the centre expected to flood 14 times a year in 2020 and 60 times a year in 2050.
Steve Marks, who oversees much of the Environment Agency’s work in Looe, says the town runs the risk of flooding every time there is a spring tide, which happens twice a month. “The sea reaches the top of the quayside walls on a spring tide and when you get a storm as well, the water comes over,” he says, gesturing towards the narrow lanes that slope into the old town. “And we know climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms.”
These existential threats are not confined to Looe. The British coast is crumbling into the sea at an accelerating rate, with huge chunks of cliffs and beaches being swept away in storms each winter. According to the Committee on Climate Change, sea levels around Britain could rise by at least a metre over the lifetimes of today’s children.
Yet smaller coastal communities such as Looe only qualify for limited government funding for flood defence, which is targeted at more densely populated areas. Councils are expected to look to private businesses to make up shortfalls. But the environmental food and rural affairs select committee found this year that it has become increasingly difficult to attract such contributions, with only £50 million secured from private sector sources since 2015. “The money that is available for schemes in small places like Looe falls quite far short of what is actually needed,” says Marks.’ Click here to read more