By Laurence Mee, SAMS, Scottish Marine Institute, laurence.mee [at] sams.ac.uk
Let me begin by telling you something about Hallsands because it is a parable for the kind of short-sighted thinking that we often witness today. Hallsands is a little hamlet of a few well-maintained houses perched on a Devon cliff in a hinterland of rolling hills dotted with sheep and expensive holiday homes. But it didn’t used to be like that. The 1891 census showed it to be a bustling little fishing village of 159 people with 37 houses and a pub. But in a fateful storm on 26 January 1917, the entire village tumbled into the sea just after the residents had scrambled to safety. Villages that have existed for centuries don’t simply vanish without reason; the storm was a harsh but not unusual one. What precipitated the disaster was the dredging and removal of huge quantities of gravel from the underwater banks off Hallsands in the 1890s for construction material to be used for expanding the port of Plymouth. Local people had protested and the dredging was halted in 1902 … but it was too late, the natural resilience of the coastline had been fatally weakened.