A town and surrounding villages could be left cut off “within weeks” if a vital part of a coastal cliff falls into the sea, it has been claimed.
There are fears that a storm could destroy what remains of a “small cliff” at Sand-le-Mere which acts a narrow but key barrier between the raging North Sea and town of Withernsea and parts of Holderness in East Yorkshire.
In a concerning prediction, Phil Mathison, of Withernsea’s Coastal Change Observatory, says that, should what is left of the crumbling cliff edge fall away, the North Sea could inundate Tunstall Drain – a gully that begins immediately behind it.
The drain is “below the level of the high tides” and could therefore swamp low-lying land all the way to the Humber near Stone Creek.
If his predictions were to come true, it would cut off villages like Keyingham and Patrington, as well as Withernsea.
“South Holderness could then become an island,” Mr Mathison said in a stark warning.
“We had been aware for a while that the small cliff at Sand-le-Mere that fronts the Tunstall Drain was vulnerable, but as you will see from the images, we did not realise just how vulnerable it was.
“If there is a storm, and the North Sea runs in there – the drain is below the level of the high tides and at least twenty feet below what little is left of the boulder clay ridge that separates it from the sea – then the sea can run all the way to the Humber.
“Most of this part of Holderness is barely at sea level and the surge water would track into Roos Drain and down to Ottringham and then Stone Creek.
“We feel that this potential situation represents massive erosion by the back door, as most of the authorities’ attention is on things like the bungalows near the cliffs at Skipsea.
“This eventuality could happen within weeks.”
In June this year, the iconic Withernsea Pier Towers opened as a Coastal Change Observatory, giving experts a hub to monitor changes caused by coastal erosion.
The Holderness coast as a whole is the fastest eroding coastline in northern Europe, being claimed by the sea at a rate of almost two metres each year.
The pictures were taken by Torkel Larsen, the chairman of the Withernsea Pier and Promenade Association, on a walk to observe the situation on Saturday, December 5.
“The main thrust of what I do is the history of Holderness and Spurn Point. I’ve been researching this stuff for 25 years,” he said.
“What we do every so often is go on a reccy down the coast – socially-distanced of course.
“If the sea goes through the drain, hundreds of acres are not even at sea level. I think it could go through this winter.
“It would get to the Humber within hours.
“It’s only designed to handle land drainage. It’s not designed to handle a million litres of seawater.”
East Riding of Yorkshire Council are responsible for defending the coastal towns of Bridlington, Hornsea and Withernsea, as well as important infrastructure such as the has terminals.
The council’s website also explains that the Environment Agency defends “strategically important drains at Barmston and Tunstall”.