May 7, 2014 10:30 pm

How rapidly is the British coastline crumbling? Faster than expected

Watch above: The White Cliffs of Dover are crumbling into the sea at a shocking rate. Stuart Greer reports.

The White Cliffs of Dover are enduring symbols of England, but climate change and extreme weather have taken their toll.

The picturesque chalky cliffs, along the coast of the English Channel, are crumbling at a shocking rate.

Severe erosion has forced the demolition of historic homes and the closure of beaches.

But, many areas along the shores of Great Britain are falling into the sea.

READ MORE: Climate change already having dire consequences in U.S.: report

The National Trust, which manages one-tenth of the United Kingdom’s coastline, predicts climate change means the pace of erosion will only accelerate.

Philip Dyke, the Trust’s coast and marine adviser, told Global News erosion that is normally expected over the course of a decade is happening in a matter of weeks.

“Britain is shrinking,” Dyke said.

The Birling Gap, along the English Channel, is one of the worst hit areas, losing five metres of coastline in just three months.

The Birling Gap, along the English Channel, is one of the worst hit areas, losing five metres of coastline in just three months.

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Dyke explained more than 300,000 visitors come to see Birling Gap annually to see the landscape, but this year the steps down to the beach had to be taken away.

He said it wasn’t until Good Friday (Apr. 18) that the Trust was able to provide access for tourists to the vantage point.

That was a similar story in 30 other locations along the British coastline after an unprecedented number of severe storms battered the U.K. this past winter, during which rapidly retreating coastline left rail lines dangling and homes tumbling onto beaches.

WATCH: Philip Dyke explains how fast the cliffs are crumbling and what Britain can do to adapt

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“The winter gave us a bit of an insight into the future, which will be characterized by rising sea levels, but also by, perhaps, more extreme weather,” he said.

Concrete barriers and natural solutions such as sand dunes and salt marches can slow the erosion.

But, Britain may have no choice but to adapt to its shrinking shores: Erosion is what makes them so attractive, Dyke explained.

“The very fact that you’ve got these amazing white cliffs… they are white because they’re constantly being eroded,” he said.

He said if the erosion were to stop, the White Cliffs of Dover would eventually become green slopes, covered in vegetation.

“The very beauty of… all of our coastlines around the world are actually determined by erosion and coastal process change.”

He said the Trust has been examining the effects of climate change and rising sea levels for the past 10 years.

He said the building structures to protect the coastlines are limited in what they can achieve, as they will have to be expanded and made stronger as time goes on and sea levels rise.

“And, actually quite often you damage the very thing, the very asset you’re looking for people to enjoy, by covering it in concrete.”

The Trust is encouraging adaptation, something Dyke describes as “rollback.”

“Wherever we’re seeing erosion, we will gradually rollback the infrastructure,” he said. But that means land needs to be developed with space for buildings and parking lots to be moved back as the coastline shrinks.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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