East Yorkshire coastal erosion

Green Lane, Skipsea

Brian Williams, July 2015.

 Skipsea location

A map depicting the local area as it was in 1764 at the time of the Enclosure Acts shows a road, or track, running parallel to the coastline at a little over a kilometre to the east of the village of Skipsea. The scale of the map suggests about 370 metres separate the track from the edge of the cliff.

 Skipsea Township, 1764
Source: British History Online [with slight changes].

Some 250 years later, coastal erosion has overtaken the road. Vestiges of the southern part, known as Cliff Road, are shown on the Skipsea Withow page. The last of the northern section, named Green Lane, can be seen at Skipsea.

During the 1980s, a number of bungalows were built along the western side of Green Lane with imposing views of the sea beyond Tranmere Cliff. Ideal as holiday homes, the properties may also have appeared attractive as places to live out retirement. However, for some buyers the length of tenure would seem to have proved shorter than expected.

Media attention is regularly drawn to the Green Lane community, members of which face domestic relocation, loss of an asset, and the cost of enforced demolition (though grants may be applied for). The following content looks at the situation from the point of view of cliff loss information.

 Skipsea Green Lane, late 2007
Stormy weather sends spray over Green Lane, late 2007 [from a video by Dave Hunt].

what could have been known in 1985

Green Lane is well served in terms of erosion measurement. Two essentially separate sources are described here, and another noted.

1. In 1952, Hartmut Valentin conducted what may be regarded as the first detailed survey of cliff recession. Observations were taken at approximately 200-metre intervals along the entire coast. From the measurements, calculations were made of land loss caused by a hundred years of erosion between 1852 and 1952. One of the observation points was opposite Green Lane.

The results of the survey were originally published in a journal in 1954 and again in 1971, as one of a collection of papers presented in textbook form. Valentin estimated an average annual recession rate of 1.65 metres for the relevant cliff.

2. Traversing the Green Lane site about 85 metres in from Mill Lane is erosion monitoring profile no. 25.

Although systematic gathering of data did not commence until 2003, cliff line positions along the profile can be compared on Ordnance Survey maps. In 1985, the following information was obtainable (values in metres).

date of OS map
(years between)

inland movement
of cliff line

average annual loss
between dates

1854 (––)
1889 (36)
1907 (18)
1927 (20)
1954 (27)
1975 (21)

Calculation of cliff loss from maps has limitations but averages taken over periods of time may be considered as close as is likely to be achieved, certainly in the historical context. Overall, an annual average for the 122 years covered by the table would be 1.77 metres.

3. The Royal Commission on Coast Erosion 1907 includes information supplied by Mr E R Matthews, Borough Surveyor at Bridlington. A table entry records the Ulrome to Skipsea section, 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometres) in length, as losing 2 yards (1.83 metres) per annum.

distance of the cliff in 1985

Bungalows situated at or near the monitoring profile share a common building line. By reckoning, in 1985 the cliff line would have been 57 metres, or 187 feet, from the front of the homes across gardens stretching 25 to 30 metres (Green Lane had a slight curve), a surfaced roadway, and an area of green.

Consulting the information available at the time, an adoption of the Valentin rate would suggest a tenure expectancy of 34½ years before the cliff reached the front door, in 2019.

A favouring of Ordnance Survey cartography would shorten the expectancy to 32 years and a couple of months, allowing tenure until 2017.

The Commissionís rate, locationally and metrically less specific, would give the properties a touch over 31 years, to 2016.

 Skipsea Green Lane, late 2013
The roadway is gone and the cliff line advances up the gardens [4th December 2013].

recent experience

According to measurement along Profile 25, by November 2014 the cliff line had receded 38.84 metres since 1985. Averaged over the 28½ years, an annual rate is 1.36 metres. This is less than all the estimates calculated from information available in 1985. A continuation at the same rate would put the cliff at the building line of the bungalows by late 2027.

However, any average masks variation. An 18-month period from 2011 through 2012 saw 6.62 metres lost. Another spell from 2007 through 2008 recorded 7.67 metres. In the single year ending spring 2007, almost 6 metres were removed. There are also a number of seasons without loss.

The cyclic nature of East Yorkshire coastal erosion is associated with the movement, or migration, of hotspots. In the case of Green Lane, it is possible for erosion to have been influenced by the terminal groyne effect produced by sea defences positioned updrift of the locality.


An erosion event, when some metres are lost over a relatively short period of time, is sure to cause alarm and distress among residents whose homes are only a short way from the cliff.

On the other hand, a sense of inevitability prevails when a coast has been receding for thousands of years (see some basics, erosion map). Any notion of permanence has to be treated as relative.

Cliff loss information was available in 1985 from which to form estimates of tenure expectancy. Even though the reality has delivered less recession than might have been forecast in 1985, Green Lane was never certain to offer the 45, 50, 60, or 70 years of tenure that residents say they were led to look forward to.

 Skipsea Green Lane aerial

Arrows in yellow show estimates of cliff line position in 45 years from the perspective of 1985, using information available at the time.

The thicker horizontal line represents monitoring profile no. 25. Rates of recession along the line could be calculated from Ordnance Survey maps.

Landward projection from an observation point of the survey by Valentin is traced by the thinner horizontal line. The right margin of the image may be considered the position of the cliff line in 1952, year of the survey.

Both estimates place the cliff line inland of the bungalows.

Although the actual rate of cliff loss has been less, tenure is unlikely to achieve 45 years from 1985 (white arrows).

Visible behind the Green Lane bungalows is a small section of South Field, part of the extensive Skipsea Sands Holiday Park.

[Google Earth aerial imagery, 2005.]