Storm Ciarán sweeps into Swanage brushing away its flood defences

Concrete blocks installed just a fortnight ago along Swanage seafront to protect homes and businesses from flooding were strewn across the road by the force of Storm Ciarán, while nearby Studland beaches experienced about five years of coastal erosion in just two high tides.

The forecast weather was more damaging along the Purbeck Coast in Dorset than predicted but less worse than other places in the South West where major incidents were declared.

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Storm Ciaran and Swanage coastguard

Swanage Coastguard closed the lower High Street for safety

Storm Ciaran

Swanage Town Council operations staff attempt to remove the broken wooden beach hut bases from the sea

Crews were out early assessing the damage

Storm Ciarán reached Purbeck at about 9 pm on Wednesday 1st November 2023 and grew in ferocity overnight into Thursday 2nd November 2023.

Teams from Swanage Town Council, Swanage Coastguard, police and ambulance crews were out early in the morning in Swanage assessing the damage and making sure everyone was safe.

Unbelievably the force of the waves during Storm Ciarán pushed the temporary flood defences in the lower High Street right across the road, as if they were Lego bricks. The concrete blocks had only been craned into position a couple of weeks ago by the Environment Agency.

With storm damage across Dorset taking up the Environment Agency’s resources elsewhere, Swanage Town Council called in local groundwork company Kingston Contractors who put the blocks back into place before the high tide at 10.15 am.

Storm Ciaran's impact on lower High Street
Swanage coastguard

Barry Audley from Kingston Contractors was called in as a substitute for the Environment Agency, to reinstate the concrete flood defence before high tide

Mo Killick

A permanent solution is even more urgent as the sea plays with the blocks as if they were Lego

Race against high tide

Swanage Coastguard reported:

“Today the team assisted the council in restoring the sea defences following Storm Ciaran that hit the UK.

“Overnight several very large concrete blocks were pushed out causing gaps for the sea to breach at the next tide. The team provided a cordon to allow a safe working area with the work completed in time for the high tide.

“The team then checked the beach area to check what was being washed up and located this debris from the beach huts staging. With sea conditions bad the council removed this later in the day.”

Storm Ciaran
andy knill

The sea overtops the blocks and throws debris across the path by Gee Whites

Storm Ciaran and Andy Knill

The artist Andy Knill inspects the damage to his artwork

Art work damaged

However some of the new street art panels that had been attached to the flood defence blocks to make them more visible to the partially sighted and create awareness of the flooding issue in Swanage could not be saved from damage.

The concrete blocks were installed at the start of winter to provide a temporary sea defence until a permanent solution is agreed on.

Storm Ciaran

This bin gets a deep clean

The wooden planks from the beach hut bases float like giant matchsticks in the sea

“Timely reminder of the power and challenges of the sea”

Sara Parker from Dorset Coast Forum is leading on the public consultation to find out what sort of flood defence, people would like to see in Swanage. She said:

“I hope everyone in Swanage has stayed safe during Storm Ciaran. Thank you to everyone who has asked about the two damaged Flooding Swanage with Art panels created by Andy Knill Art and Allsort’d.

“We can confirm that Andy will be replacing with our help but we will also be keeping the damaged panels as a timely reminder of the power and challenges of the sea. This has just illustrated further the need for a permanent solution to the flooding in the lower High Street.

“Thank you to the team at Swanage Town Council who made a huge effort early in the morning to restore the temporary wave barriers to their right positions.”

The official opening of the Flooding Swanage with Art trail will still go ahead at 4 pm on Friday 3rd November 2023 at The Square, where everyone can get to meet the artists.

Shore Road living up to its name

Storm Ciaran

Damage along The Parade means the closure of the footpath

Studland – five years of erosion in one day

In Studland, with little to no flood defences and no concrete promenade along the beach, the power of Storm Ciarán faced much less resistance, claiming two beach huts, eroding cliffs and sand dunes and radically reducing the amount of beach area.

National Trust general manager for Purbeck Tracey Churcher said:

“It’s usually strong easterly winds that we have to look out for but what has really surprised everyone is the damage caused by this south westerly. There was very low atmospheric pressure and high tides, which combined with the sheer power of the sea has caused significant coastal erosion, shocking staff and those who know Studland well.

“It has created coastal change at a rapid pace that we just didn’t expect, losing about four to five metres of beach between the sea and coastline, along the stretch from Knoll Beach to Middle Beach.

“We’re estimating that Storm Ciarán, over two high tides, has created the amount of coastal erosion that we would normally expect to occur over four to five years.”

Storm Ciaran - New fencing overhanging cliff - Middle Beach
NT Studland

Studland’s Middle Beach – the toilet block (on the area to the right) was removed along with the cafe by the National Trust, but if it hadn’t it would be in the sea by now

Storm Ciaran - New fencing overhanging cliff - Middle Beach
NT Studland

The new fencing on the top of the cliff has collapsed as large areas have been washed away

“Really hard and emotional day”

The National Trust beaches, car parks and facilities in Studland were closed for a time in the morning because of a power cut and to give staff the time to clear away the debris.

Tracey added:

“It’s been a really hard and emotional day to see the destruction but Studland is a natural dynamic coastline, doing what it’s always done, although more regularly than before. We just have to manage it.

“Our countryside team came to help the beach team with the clearing up. There was a power outage at one point which made things even more difficult but they all pulled together and I couldn’t be prouder of them all.”

Watch Storm Ciarán – the morning after the night before

Further information

More photos

Storm Ciaran

A boat is rescued from lower High Street

Storm Ciaran

The Parade is closed off for safety

Shore Road floods along its northern end where it’s not currently planned to install any sea defence

The bottom section of the Sheps Hollow steps along the north end of Swanage Beach have finally been swept away by Storm Ciarán

Storm Ciaran - Erosion of dune at Knoll Beach - the posts to the right were previously along the edge of the dune
NT Studland

The wooden posts on the right, mark the former edge of the sand dunes on Knoll Beach in Studland

Studland after Storm Ciaran
Becky Grace Stares

The beach is getting closer to the huts on Studland’s Middle Beach

Storm Ciaran - Digger preparing to move a vulnerable beach hut back from edge of collased dune
NT Studland

With two beach huts already destroyed by the sea, the National Trust staff move four huts away from the crumbling edge

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