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Cliff erosion of 'scientific interest'

PUBLISHED: 11:45 19 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:50 05 July 2010

Natural England has defended its right to allow the sea to erode cliffs for scientific reasons, even though people's homes are at risk.

The statutory body responsible for looking after wild plants, animals and the natural features of England was under attack at the High Court in London because it wants fossil-bearing cliffs on the north Suffolk coast to be allowed to wear away, exposing stratas of soil and rock for study.

Natural England has defended its right to allow the sea to erode cliffs for scientific reasons, even though people's homes are at risk.

The statutory body responsible for looking after wild plants, animals and the natural features of England was under attack at the High Court in London because it wants fossil-bearing cliffs on the north Suffolk coast to be allowed to wear away, exposing stratas of soil and rock for study.

Retired engineer Peter Boggis, aged 77, who lives on the clifftop at The Warren, Easton Bavents, near Southwold, accused the body of acting outside its statutory powers when it notified the cliffs as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 2006, protecting the erosion process.

Mr Boggis had earlier built his own sea defences to prevent erosion and save his clifftop home and 13 others nearby from eventually slipping into the North Sea.

But the SSSI designation means he can no longer maintain the “soft sea defences'”, which cost him tens of thousands of pounds to construct, using about 250,000 tonnes of compacted clay soils.

Mr Boggis, who said he is fighting for the legal right to protect his home, estimates only 50,000 tonnes of soil remain, the rest having been washed away.

It is estimated that the clifftop homes will all disappear within the next 50 years as the cliffs crumble, unless they are protected.

Mr Boggis said one house was already just 10 metres from the cliff edge, and his own chalet bungalow about 80 metres.

His lawyers argued before Mr Justice Blair, sitting at London's High Court, that SSSIs were meant to conserve and protect flora, fauna and landscape features - not allow them to be destroyed.

But yesterday, the second day of the hearing, John Howell QC, appearing for Natural England, argued many sites had been declared SSSIs “because the process of erosion makes them interesting to scientists”.

Mr Howell argued if Mr Boggis was to win his legal challenge it could frustrate geological investigations and curtail understanding of how the English landscape had evolved.

Allowing erosion to continue assisted investigations “in a way not possible if materials remain underground and unexposed'”.

Mr Howell said Natural England was not arguing that sea defences could not be constructed in every case, but geological interest always had to be weighed in the balance against other considerations.

But Mr Boggis said outside court yesterday: “What is happening is an absolute travesty of justice, not only for me but for all the people living at Easton Bavents. It is also a great threat to those living on coastal cliffs throughout the nation.”

The hearing continues today.

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