Time’s up for Studland cafe as tide begins to reclaim Middle Beach

A demolition team has started work to remove the iconic Middle Beach Cafe at Studland in Dorset, as the next phase of natural beach reclamation begins at the site.

A cafe has stood overlooking Middle Beach since at least 1904 but coastal erosion has meant that it has been sited further inland over the years, with the much loved 1950s Middle Beach Cafe building, controversially closed in January 2023.

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Half of the main cafe building – an old boathouse – has already been demolished

Middle Beach Cafe at Studland

Middle Beach Cafe back in November 2022 just before closure

Could no longer guarantee the safety of visitors

The National Trust which owns Studland Bay and the surrounding countryside, said it could no longer guarantee the safety of visitors to Middle Beach Cafe after rising sea levels and coastal erosion meant that the ledge on which it stood, was becoming unstable.

Changing weather patterns in the last 25 years, with periods of drought followed by torrential rain storms becoming the norm, have caused ‘significant cliff erosion’ which is now close to causing serious safety issues.

Under the Environment Agency’s policy of managed retreat along the Studland Bay coastline, the National Trust took the decision to close the Middle Beach Cafe, when its lease expired and replace it with an eatery in the car park, further back from the beach.

The Sandy Salt Pig in the sunshine, sitting well back from the clifftop

The Sandy Salt Pig is proving popular

Although there was a 1,200-strong petition by visitors and residents in 2016 to save the Middle Beach Cafe, there has since been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the new facility, after the National Trust gave the licence to the locally well-known Wareham and Swanage Salt Pig chain.

The Sandy Salt Pig, as the new eatery at Middle Beach has been named, has set up hammocks alongside its picnic tables ready for the summer and has been steadily building up a popular following at Studland.

The Sandy Salt Pig will take over the cafe provision at Middle Beach Studland with an exciting new mission

James Warren at the opening of the Sandy Salt Pig in Middle Beach car park

New Sandy Salt Pig has proved popular

The owner of the Salt Pig chain, James Warren was a Purbeck shepherd before starting a number of food outlets based on local, sustainable food at affordable prices.

He now sources all of his beef, pork, lamb, venison, game and seafood from local farmers and fishers with the highest levels of stewardship.

James Warren speaking at the opening of the Sandy Salt Pig in January 2023 said:

“All we do is local food, from trusted farmers and fishermen. I am super excited to work with the National Trust and show them what I believe in, that local places should sell local food – not just because it’s local, but because it’s really good.”

Roads down to the former Middle Beach Cafe at Studland are now closed off for the demolition work to take place

Resident sand lizards delayed the demolition

Demolition of the Middle Beach Cafe is understood to have been delayed to make sure that no sand lizards were wintering under the wooden building. However with a rise in the temperature, a team from Wessex Demolition and Salvage, based out of Southampton, has started work on site.

The road leading down to the old Middle Beach Cafe has been fenced off and sections of the beach now have warning signs up.

Visitors are being advised that the cliff and sea defences in front of the old cafe are unstable, and that the beach has become inaccessible at high tide.

Landslips have already begun on the beach approach to the old cafe

Gabions are beginning to collapse and will eventually be removed

Winter storms will reshape the beach

Sea defences, such as rock filled wire gabions, will be removed once demolition of the old cafe buildings is complete, and winter storms are then expected to begin a natural reshaping of the beach.

Alternative routes to the sands beyond the Middle Beach car park have been highlighted so that walkers using the South West Coast Path can avoid the part now at risk from landslips.

Around 1.5 million people visit Studland beaches every year and the National Trust has the difficult task of managing the bay to strike a balance between the conservation of its landscape and habitats, the aspirations of the local community, and the demands of tourism and recreation.

The decision to close Middle Beach Cafe and let the sea reclaim the beach itself was based on a national government policy dating back to 2005 of adapting to climate change along the coast rather than fighting it.

Middle Beach is already becoming inaccessible at high tide below the cafe

Members of the public are being asked to take care around the site this summer

Sea levels rising faster than ever before

On information boards at Middle Beach, the National Trust says:

“Climate change is nothing new, but in our modern world it is changing at a rate not previously seen. As a result, sea levels in Purbeck are rising faster than has been seen before and our weather patterns are changing significantly.

“Even if we stopped all of our emissions today, we have already added enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that we are committed to around 1 degree C of warming and 40cm of sea level rise in Purbeck by 2100.

“We are more likely to see around 80cm of sea level rise and up to 4 degrees C of warming. It is important that we understand how these changes will impact the Purbeck landscape and make plans now to adapt.

“Climate change has a significant impact on places like Middle Beach, where the rate of erosion is already high and more regular shifts between heavy rainfall and drought will accelerate erosion of the soft cliffs from above while waves erode cliffs from the base.

“Removing the defences – which are now reaching the end of their lives – will allow the shoreline to adjust to a healthier and more natural state.”

Wessex Demolition and Salvage from Southampton will carry out the work

More information

  • Read about the National Trust’s policies for Studland Bay
  • More about The Salt Pig is on its website

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