A low-lying section of the Norfolk coast which is home to thousands of properties might have to be abandoned to the waves after officials said future sea defence work may be "undeliverable".

The six-mile stretch between Hunstanton and Wolferton is protected by a vast shingle bank which is maintained by the Environment Agency (EA).

However, the organisation has admitted that it is struggling to find the financial resources or the technical capabilities necessary to continue with the long-term upkeep of the ridge.

Last year scientists detected movement in the shingle bank, suggesting the sea was gradually forcing it inland.

It led officials to commission further work to see if a so-called 'trigger point' - a major change requiring a new response - had been reached.

That would prompt a major rethink of the area's defences and could see many of its caravans moved inland and questions raised about the safety of some permanent structures.

Eastern Daily Press: The shingle ridge protects thousands of caravans and holiday chalets between Hunstanton and WolfertonThe shingle ridge protects thousands of caravans and holiday chalets between Hunstanton and Wolferton (Image: Chris Bishop)

The findings are not expected until this spring but a newsletter produced by the EA and other stakeholders suggests some 'trigger points' have already been reached, because of the cost and technical restraints of the work required.

"Examples of these triggers include the impact on the environment and the financial investment required to maintain the flood risk management assets," it says.

"A beach recharge [where material is brought in to bolster the bank] was due to be undertaken in 2025 but the Environment Agency, despite significant efforts, has struggled to find a delivery method or the significant investment required to undertake these works.

"This has caused the Environment Agency to question whether one or more triggers have been reached."

Eastern Daily Press: Looking towards Hunstanton from the top of the bank Looking towards Hunstanton from the top of the bank (Image: Chris Bishop)


At the back end of each winter, the EA carries out what it calls beach recycling.

Earth movers scoop hundreds of tonnes of shingle which has been washed south to Snettisham Scalp by winter tides and transport it back to reinforce areas of bank around Snettisham and Heacham from where material has been lost.

Every 15 years or so, this annual work is bolstered by a beach recharge, where material is brought in from elsewhere to increase supplies. 

A West Norfolk Council briefing says a recharge would cost £2.4m. The EA could apply for government grant funding to carry it out.

Eastern Daily Press: Signs warn the sea defences are being erodedSigns warn the sea defences are being eroded (Image: Chris Bishop)

But the newsletter says: "Through planning for the programmed mini-beach recharge, the Environment Agency has reluctantly concluded a beach recharge is undeliverable due to both financial and technical constraints."

The newsletter adds the ridge has moved between 8m and 10m inland since surveys began in 1992.

It also points out people have been digging into bank as it has drifted closer to their properties.

People with caravans close to the defences have been told to remove structures like steps or decking.

Eastern Daily Press: People have been told to remove structures from the sea defences People have been told to remove structures from the sea defences (Image: Chris Bishop)


An EA spokesman said: “A small beach recharge was scheduled for 2024/25. However, the shallow nature of the Wash significantly restricts the EA’s ability to deliver the work and the costs are proving to be prohibitively expensive.

“The Wash East Coastal Management Strategy identified indicators that would trigger the need for a change in management approach.

"These indicators included funding limitations, environmental harm and the risk to life. 

Eastern Daily Press: Some of the thousands of properties protected by the sea defences between Hunstanton and WolfertonSome of the thousands of properties protected by the sea defences between Hunstanton and Wolferton (Image: Chris Bishop)

“Initial data on the shingle ridge combined with visual inspections would indicate the ridge has grown and, alongside the challenges identified to the beach recharge project, this has prompted us to undertake a detailed assessment.

“We are currently carrying out this assessment to understand whether a trigger point to change our approach on this shoreline is being approached."



While the bank has visibly eroded at Heacham, it continues to grow at Snettisham.

West Norfolk council leader Terry Parish said: "It's still work in progress. They are investigating, finding any evidence, to determine if trigger points have been breached or are about to be.

"There appears to be no need to do anything significant this year, next year or to whatever date in the future the assessment reveals.

"The shingle ridge is actually naturally building in width and height which might inconvenience a few with a property sitting almost on it, but it's good news."

James Wild, the MP, said: “It should be a common cause that a managed retreat for loss of land is not acceptable in North West Norfolk and the Environment Agency representatives assured me and others they are committed to long-term coastal defence measures.”