Climate change has been blamed for the decision to permanently close a family run beach cafe which has been a vital part of the Studland community for the past century.
The much loved Middle Beach Cafe, a repurposed boat house with glorious views over Studland Bay and a four star rating on Tripadvisor, will be demolished in January 2023.
The present Middle Beach Cafe was opened in a repurposed boat house in 1953
Safety of visitors can no longer be guaranteed
It has been a focal point for families on holiday in Purbeck since 1953, run by the same family for more than 30 years and there has been a cafe in the same area since 1904.
But the National Trust which owns Studland Bay and the surrounding countryside, has said it can no longer guarantee the safety of visitors after rising sea levels and coastal erosion have made the ledge on which Middle Beach Cafe stands unstable.
Changing weather patterns in the 21st Century, with periods of drought followed by torrential rainstorms, have caused ‘significant cliff erosion’ which is now close to causing serious safety issues.
Chef Paul Brown has run Middle Beach Cafe since the late 1980s
Cafe will close for good on 2nd January 2023
The cafe is now due to close permanently on Monday 2nd January 2023, with the loss of up to 12 staff and although the National Trust plans to open a temporary catering unit in the Middle Beach car park, cafe boss Paul Brown says he will not tender for the lease.
Chef Paul has been running the Middle Beach Cafe since the late 1980s and before that had worked for the previous owners as a teenager during summer holidays – as many Studland locals have for decades.
Even in November there are three full time members of staff at the cafe and another four part time workers, and in summer months up to 12 local people are employed there.
Metal defences in the sea are starting to rust
Cliff defences beneath Middle Beach Cafe are beginning to crumble
Part of family holidays on the beach for 120 years
“The importance of this cafe to the village community and economy cannot be overstated – it may only be an old wooden building serving food, but it is part of family holidays at the beach for generations, with all the wonderful memories which go with that.
“It’s not unexpected, we have been living with this possibility for the last 20 years since the National Trust chose to go with a strategy of managed coastal retreat.
“The metalwork defences in the sea are rusting, the beaches are eroding and the cliff could crumble, and the National Trust has decided it does not have the funds to properly protect this stretch of the coastline.
“The Trust is not the villain here, but the local people are devastated – it has provided employment for generations of the village’s teenagers, myself included, and it’s also the focus for so many amazing memories for families who have spent years holidaying here.
“They say that they will remove the defences and allow the cliff to ‘reprofile’ itself, and that in the next three to five years they will replace the new temporary cafe with a permanent one, but a lot of things have been promised that have never happened.”
Even in November, the views from the cafe are spectacular
Closure will truly mean the end of an era
Paul, who runs the cafe with sisters Jill and Tracey, added:
“I am 58 years old and don’t think that I should retender for a business I already have, but I would like to think that the National Trust will allow another local family to take on the new cafe and keep employment in Studland.
“The cafe has been a way of life for people visiting this wonderful unspoilt beach at Studland and it will truly be the end of an era when it closes.
“Studland has lost its fishing industry over the years and a lot of its farming, and tourism is really all that is left for the village. It’s not so much about whether I am here or not, but more about whether locals will still have a job in the worst recession we can remember.”
Campaign to save the cafe went to the National Trust’s AGM
In 2016 a campaign to save the cafe was launched by the local community who objected to the National Trust’s policy of not renewing sea defences and allowing nature to take its course. Many felt that decisions had been made without proper local consultation.
A petition with more than 3,000 signatures against the cafe’s closure was presented at the National Trust’s AGM but a resolution opposing the plans was defeated at the meeting. Since then its been a question of when will it be demolished, not if.
Thatched cottages above the beach give Studland a bygone charm
“We are working in a pragmatic way”
Tracey Churcher, general manager of the National Trust at Purbeck said:
“Whilst we are unable to prevent the impacts of climate change, we are working in a pragmatic way, to continue to provide the facilities that our visitors have come to expect.
“The best way to do this is to move the facilities to an alternative location before the erosion creates safety issues and sadly we are now close to that point”
Plans submitted for temporary cafe in car park
The National Trust has submitted a planning application for a temporary cafe to be sited on the clifftop at Middle Beach next to the picnic area looking out towards Old Harry Rocks which will be landscaped to create ‘a comfortable seating area where customers can enjoy the views’. The existing café is set to be demolished.
Dorset planning councillors will be told that coastal erosion at Middle Beach has reached the point where the current cafe is now on the cliff edge and will shortly become unsafe, so a move is vital to continue to provide safe cafe and toilet facilities for visitors.
Since Edwardian times, families have been visiting Studland for tea and cake
A bygone era – Henrietta and Ralph Bankes on Studland Beach
“We will continue a locally run cafe”
Julie Peters, Studland project manager from the National Trust, said:
“Our café tenant has provided an amazing offering for visitors over the years. His lease is shortly due to come to an end and he has decided not to put in a tender for the new building, which we hope to have in place early in the new year.
“We have had some excellent submissions by local independent businesses, so are pleased we will be able to continue the tradition of a locally run cafe.”
Visitor Geoff Mills Bowers has decades of fond memories of the cafe
Like stepping into a Famous Five adventure
Customers at Middle Beach Cafe, who have described it on Tripadvisor as having great food, friendly staff and stunning views, have been devastated to hear that it will close down.
Regular visitor Geoff Mills Bowers said:
“It will be the end of an institution. We have had some wonderful family beach holidays here spanning three generations and a visit to the cafe has always been part of that, with its views out to sea which are second to none.
“It has stayed the same for years – it could have become a nouveau riche coffee bar but instead has remained the way it has been for decades, it’s a bit like stepping into a Famous Five adventure.
“We do understand the safety reasons for closure given the effects of coastal erosion and climate change here, it’s inevitable that there will be other losses here as sea levels rise and farmland floods.
“It’s a symptom of what is happening in the world at the moment and perhaps it will make local people think what might happen if we don’t all tackle climate change together.”