After beach
Hallsands beach devastated by storms leaving only a layer of ancient peat behind.
  • Thousands of tons of shingle have been gouged out from Hallsands beach
  • Ancient peat base-layer has been left behind but it is being rapidly eroded
Residents on the picturesque Devonshire coast are enduring sleepless nights as a beach that has protected them for generations disappears overnight. Storms have battered Hallsands, in Devon, gouging out thousands of tons of sand and shingle - leaving only a base-layer of ancient peat behind. The peat is rapidly eroding and local councillors have warned that the whole of the exposed east-facing coast of that corner of the county is under threat.

Before beach
Before: Hallsands quaint shingle beach looks like a postcard scene.
South Hams District and Devon County councillor Julian Brazil said: ''Hallsands is where you can see this problem at its worst. But the erosion over the past three weeks has happened all along this stretch of coast. The continual storms have been eroding the shore like we've never see before. You've got the beach at North Hallsands but you can also see damage at Beesands where more of the road to the left of the village has been eroded. And at Torcross a lot of the beach has disappeared and all that's left is the piling. The houses are vibrating when the waves hit," said Mr Brazil.

"Residents are very concerned and tell me they can't sleep at night because of the booming." Mr Brazil added: "It is alarming. The base-layer of peat is washing away every day. In the middle of the beach there is a big fisherman's winch and that until recently stood 20-foot proud from the bottom of the shore. Now it's down on the peat and the cottages are under threat."

Among the people campaigning for Hallsands to be protected is Blur and Gorrilaz frontman Damon Albarn. The singer and songwriter used to live in the tiny village and it is believed to have inspired the album Plastic Beach released by Gorrilaz.

It was also exactly 99 years ago this month that Hallsands made national news when a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached defences. The storms in 1917 wrought so much destruction that, by the end of that year only one house remained habitable.

Blame for the disaster was placed firmly at the door of Plymouth's naval dockyard the building of which required thousands of tons of gravel to be extracted from the Skerries Bank just off Hallsands. Mr Brazil said: 'Two years ago the rock armouring that was there was tossed around by the sea and the road was wiped out. "Local residents kicked up a stink then - and works were done. The rock armour was put back and the road resealed. But now that is not going to be with us for long as it's being washed out beneath."

A South Hams District Council spokesman said that government funding to save the area could be hard to secure. She explained the management of all local beaches was guided by a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), and said: "The part that covers Hallsands was subject to consultation ahead of formal publication in December 2010. The classification for Hallsands is 'no active intervention'. Government policy for allocating funding for coastal protection works is normally based on the protection of properties and securing value for money," she explained.

"In general terms the higher the number of properties protected, the greater the possibility of attracting funding. This was reviewed by representatives from the Environment Agency (EA), South Hams District Council and Dr Sarah Wollaston MP after the storms in 2014 - and it was agreed then that the classification of Hallsands appears reasonable when considering the wider picture of coastal erosion and the need for prioritisation of coastal protection works in circumstances of limited available finance."

Mr Brazil added: "It falls to the Environment Agency to do something - they have government funding for this sort of thing."

A spokesman for the EA said that its official flood map for the area indicated 'no risk of flooding' to any of the (nine) properties at North Hallsands but admitted there was risk to road infrastructure due to erosion in the short term and property in the longer term. "Due to the low risk to a small number of properties, the preferred option in the Shoreline Management Plan is no active intervention for the next 100 years."