Norfolk gets three miles of new beaches in a groundbreaking sandscaping project

Engineers pumped more than 1.8 billion cubic metres of sand to protect the North Norfolk coastline near Bacton and Walcott from erosion and storm surges.

A Norfolk sandscaping project could become the blueprint to save British shores from erosion. The £22 million scheme, which is the first of its kind in the UK, has created three miles of new beaches from Bacton to Walcott.

That stretch of Norfolk’s northern coastline has been particularly hit by erosion, with Bacton Gas Terminal — originally built more than 300 ft from the sea — now set just 30 ft away. In particular, the storms of December 2013 caused enormous damage, almost halving the buffer in front of the terminal and flooding the nearby villages.

The option to use a concrete barrier to protect the terminal, which supplies a third of the UK’s natural gas, was ruled out early on because it could accelerate erosion elsewhere, with a devastating impact on neighbouring Bacton and Walcott. By contrast, the sandscaping project, which has been pioneered in the Netherlands, protects the terminal behind a 3.7-mile dune while also shielding the villages further down the coast.

Dutch engineering firm Royal HaskoningDHV has pumped more than 1.8 million cubic metres of sand, taken from licensed seabed dredging areas, to replenish the Norfolk shore.

Enough to fill half of Wembley stadium, the sand has increased both the height and the width of the local beaches. Waves and tides will now redistribute it down drift. This should shelter that stretch of coastline from both erosion and storm surges for at least 15-20 years, according to Royal HaskoningDHV’s flood and coastal management advisor, Jaap Flikweert.

‘We expect it will take about 15-20 years until this has eroded to a point where they have to think again about: “Well do we need to do something again?”‘ he told the BBC.

The same technique could be successfully employed elsewhere in the UK, with 15 sites already identified as potentially benefitting from sandscaping.

‘Certainly for the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coast, we have a very dynamic coastline, where the beaches comprise of relatively soft sediments, which move very easily under the conditions that the North Sea brings to us,’ John Bacon, a scientist at the Centre for Fisheries, Environment and Aquaculture Science, told the BBC. ‘In all of those areas, this type of project could work.’

‘It’s incredibly exciting to see this project come to fruition,’ said North Norfolk District Council’s Leader, Councillor Sarah Bütikofer. ‘Protecting local homes, communities, businesses and nationally important infrastructure from the full force of the North Sea, this innovative Scheme — a prime example of engineering with nature — has been designed to address the real threat of coastal erosion and its devastating impact which here in North Norfolk we are all too familiar with.’