Climate Witness: Cassian Garbett, UK
The valley is managed by 3 conservation groups including the Seaford Head Nature Reserve Management Committee which Cassian has sat on for 11 years. He is now Vice Chairman. He is also involved with the Environment Agency’s plans to flood the Cuckmere Valley and convert it back from drained land to saltmarsh. Cassian works from home as a furniture maker, using materials collected from the beach. This is done entirely by hand as the house is not run off the main electricity grid but has a small wind generator. Lighting is provided by candles and the family grow their own vegetables and keep chickens.
Cassian Garbett tells us:
"I am the last permanent resident in one of five coastguard cottages near the town of Seaford. They are all perched on the chalk cliff edge, a conservation area. Built in 1818, the cottages are very historic and feature in tourist brochures around the world.
The army built significant sea defences here when they occupied these cottages during the war. It should be possible to maintain them for the next twenty years, but obviously the challenge is ever greater because of rising sea levels and greater frequency of storms because of climate change.
Storms: greater frequency and stronger forces
The sea definitely looks bigger to us, it is a different beast. I suppose there is a perceptible change for us because I work from home, so we see two tides a day.
We witness the changing of the seasons and it is like a very gentle pulse, you can sense the changes that a person living a different life perhaps wouldn’t. There has been a greater frequency of storms.
The sea defences here suffered wholesale destruction in 1999. We had a severe force 11 gale - effectively a hurricane. There was nobody around here who can remember them being so thoroughly broken up.
The UK Environment Agency reinstated the shingle bank but the following winter it was punctured and broken up again. In the six years since 1999 it has happened four times; whereas it hadn’t happened for 50 years before that. That is the big difference… global warming is like a double whammy because it is accelerating a natural process of erosion."
We don't see it as a battle with the sea - we live with it
"The hardest thing is that you can repair what is there but what’s there was built for a different set of dynamics. What we see along the coast here is the dilemma. Do you put money in to strengthen the defences up or do you let things go? We don’t see it as a battle with the sea... we live with it. But in my child’s lifetime I can’t see how they would be able to maintain the defences.
As an island nation with a very long coastline it is very regrettable that we have put so little money into sea defences for so many years - and that is partly contributing to the difficulties that we are facing today. But the real problem is climate change.
As HRH the Prince of Wales said last month, ‘climate change is the 'greatest challenge facing man in order to ensure there is something left to hand on to future generations’. It needs to become a greater priority for everyone - politicians, business and people like you and me.
Scientific reviewReviewed by: Dr Sophie des Clers, Environmental Change Research Centre, University College London, UK
The 2002 UK climate change scenarios predicted increased winter precipitation, rising sea levels and some changes in storminess (UKCIP02). Increased winter rains, and sea level rise combined with land movement, have already been observed on the South coast (UKCIP08). Obvious changes in storm frequency are not predicted by climate models for Cassian’s region at present, but the intensity of “severe” storms has increased in southern UK in the recent decades (Allan, 2006).
Cassian’s first hand experience of increased coastal erosion is therefore consistent with a combination of well documented climate changes (MCCIP ARC08).
Sea defences are under increasing pressure from climate change. In the future, government may stop maintaining sea defences of the Cuckmere Haven estuary of nearby. It is hoped this natural flooding may release some pressure at the foot of the cliffs. This “managed retreat” may help slow down erosion at the foot of the cliff and its rapid retreat, but Cassian may still loose his home to climate change.
- Allan, R. (2006). Impacts of Climate Change on Storminess in Marine Climate Change Impacts Annual Report Card 2006 (Eds. Buckley, P.J, Dye, S.R. and Baxter, J.M), Online Summary Reports, MCCIP, Lowestoft, www.mccip.org.uk
- UKCIP02: Hulme,M., Jenkins,G.J., Lu,X., Turnpenny,J.R., Mitchell,T.D., Jones,R.G., Lowe,J., Murphy,J.M., Hassell,D., Boorman,P., McDonald,R. and Hill,S. (2002) Climate Change Scenarios for the United Kingdom: The UKCIP02 Scientific Report, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. 120pp www.ukcip.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=236&Itemid=330
- UKCIP08: Jenkins, G.J., Perry, M.C., and Prior, M.J.0 (2007). The climate of the United Kingdom and recent trends. Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK. www.ukcip.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=163&Itemid=293
- MCCIP ARC08: MCCIP (2008). Marine Climate Change Impacts Annual Report Card 2007–2008. (Eds. Baxter JM, Buckley PJ and Wallace CJ), Summary Report, MCCIP, Lowestoft, 8pp. www.mccip.org.uk/arc/2007/default.htm
All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.