Work will start shortly to relocate the steps at Birling Gap to a safer anchorage following significant erosion of the chalk face over the last few years.
The work will start on Monday 2 October and will include installing a new set of steps as close to the cliff edge as possible. Depending on the weather, the work is expected to be completed by the end of November
“There have been some spectacular pictures of recent cliff falls in the area, but much of the damage to the Birling Gap section took place during the winter storms of 2013-14, when up to four metres of cliff were lost in one day,” said Councillor Claire Dowling, Wealden District Council Cabinet member with responsibility for Coastal Protection. “The steps and bridge are designed to be periodically moved to allow for ongoing erosion, but unfortunately the District Council and the National Trust are having to take this action a number of years earlier than we had hoped.
“We regret the inconvenience this may cause people wishing to access the beach but it is important that we complete the work before the coming winter storms.”
“The present staircase was installed in 1996, to replace a damaged earlier structure. It was moved back to the cliff line in 2002 and the access bridge - which dated from the earlier structure - was replaced and lengthened in 2013. It is notable that by 2005, Birling Gap cliffs had retreated 90 metres further north from where they had stood in 1873.
“It is another stark reminder of the relentless erosion taking place and why it is so important not to go near the cliff edge. We never know when or where the next fall will take place.”
It is hoped that once in their new position, the steps should not have to be replaced for up to ten more years.
Adrian Harrison, National Trust Lead Ranger said, “Here at Birling Gap we are face to face with the realities of coastal change. We are glad to have the support of Wealden District Council with this essential work on the steps, which will help to enable long term access to the beach.
“As a charity the National Trust looks after 775 miles of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our coast is a dynamic, changing thing. There is no easy solution to coastal erosion, we have to adapt to change.”
More than 350,000 people visit the cliffs at Birling Gap each year. When the work is taking place, people will not be able to go down to the beach but will still be able to enjoy the magnificent coastal scenery, walk on the Seven Sisters and visit the National Trust Café, Shop and Visitor Centre.
During the works, beach walkers should not attempt to walk along the shoreline from Eastbourne or Cuckmere Haven as there will be no access or exit point from the beach at Birling Gap and walkers run the risk of being cut off by incoming tides.