The Naze

This weekend I was at my parents’ and on Saturday afternoon we took advantage of global warming and went for a walk along The Naze.

The Naze is a coastal headland just north of Walton in Essex. It was the area that first got me interested in geology when I was a child. There are two types of rock there. At the bottom there is the London Clay which is underneath most of southeast England and above that is the Red Crag which is a sandstone.

The Red Crag is full of fossils. Well, I say fossils, but really they are just shells that fell to the sea-bed and got covered by sand. They’re a couple of million years old and stained red by the sand, but they are really no different than the modern shells that you find on the beach. Apparently there’s a species of Neptunea found there which is rare as the spiral goes in the opposite direction to all other related species. In my parents loft there are probably lots of shoeboxes full of Red Crag fossils gathered from The Naze. The London Clay is much older (about 50 million years) and has its own set of fossils. Apparently the most common thing you’ll find in the clay is a shark’s tooth. But in 35 years of searching I’ve never found one.

But the Naze has a problem. And the problem is this. Sandstone is porous and clay isn’t. When it rains, water passed through the sandstone and collects on top of the clay. This destabilises the cliff. The Naze is therefore one of the fastest eroding parts of the British coastline. As an example, there are two Second World War pillboxes that were built on top of the cliff. Today, only 65 years later, they are on the beach. And they’re not sitting right next to the cliff face either. They’re both a good 50 yards from the cliff. That’s a lot of erosion in a very short time.

You’re no longer allowed to climb on the cliffs as a) it’s too dangerous and b) it adds to the erosion. So there’s a generation of local schoolchildren who haven’t enjoyed a school trip there. Which is a shame.

Other than closing the cliffs, there seems to be nothing being done to counter the erosion. The local council has plenty of more important things to spend its money on. But the erosion continues at a worrying pace. On Saturday I took some photos so that I have a reference point to compare to visits that I make in the next few years. It would be interesting to search for some older photos to show how it has changed.

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