King Arthur’s legendary birthplace could be lost at sea, English Heritage said, as it warns that accelerating coastal erosion was threatening heritage all along the coast of England.
Rising sea levels and increasingly powerful winter storms driven by climate change are damaging the country’s coastal history.
“Erosion along the coast of England is nothing new, but the rate of land loss we have seen in recent years is alarming,” said Rob Woodside, director of properties at the charity.
Woodside told The Telegraph that with limited budgets and hundreds of sites to protect, English Heritage faced tough decisions, including the possible abandonment of some properties.
“What we can’t do is try to play King Canute and hold back water, we have to learn to live with this changing environment.”
In addition to the warning, English Heritage has published a list of six sites most at risk of increasing erosion, including Tintagel Castle. He launched an urgent fundraiser to defend the properties.
Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall, has been associated with King Arthur since Geoffrey of Monmouth named it as the site of his conception in his 12th-century History of the Kings of England.
The site has long been attacked by the sea, with parts of the 13th-century castle collapsing into the Celtic Sea over the past seven centuries.
However, accelerated erosion is threatening much of the estate, including the visitor center. Archaeological remains and steps for visitor access have already been swept away by the soft ground between the sites’ two cliffs.
English Heritage said the site is in urgent need of £ 40,000 of work just to repair damage caused by last winter’s storms.
Although the castle itself is not immediately threatened, the cliffs around it are facing increasing dangers from the sea in the coming decades.
A set of steps leading to the beach has been swept away by storms and needs to be replaced urgently to allow access for visitors, the charity said.
Other properties face an even more immediate challenge.
In February 2021, the heritage group was presented with clear evidence of the threat it faced. A few days before the start of stabilization work on Hurst Castle, an artillery fort on the Solent first built by Henry VIII, a large section of its east wing collapsed
The eighteenth-century expansion of the fort had its foundations undermined by the sea. “Hurst Castle is a real challenge because the natural processes that created the spit are disrupted due to the development in Chichester Harbor,” said Woodside, “So the spirit is retreating and undermining the foundation of the castle.”
After the collapse, English Heritage built new defenses around the fort and completed the stabilization work. However, the dams that protect the original Tudor section of the fort are in desperate need of reinforcement.
The long-term future of the site, meanwhile, is in doubt. If the Environment Agency decides not to protect the wider stretch of coast, Woodside said, “we may see the spirit being disrupted and we may not be able to access it, so we may get to a point where they are not. more able to keep it.
Also on the list of properties at risk are the walls of St Mary’s garrison in the Isles of Scilly. The 17th and 18th century walls were designed to harness the tides to create holding points, but those same tides now threaten to break through the walls and spill them into the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, Bayard’s Cove Fort, which has been at the mouth of the River Dart in Devon for half a millennium, is at risk of regular flooding due to its low location.
And 13 miles east of Hurst Castle, another of Henry VIII’s coastal batteries, Calshot Castle, faces permanent flooding from rising seas.
The last site on the list is Piel Castle, in Morecambe Bay. The island stronghold was built in the early 1300s to protect Barrow-in-Furness from Scottish pirates and marauders. Now, however, he must face his own demise from the waters he once protected.
The island of the same name it sits on is disappearing into the freezing Irish Sea as its coastal defenses are “removed,” Woodside said. If this continues, the castle itself will be at risk.
“Hundreds of heritage sites in the UK and around the world are increasingly at risk. If we want these coastal properties to survive in the coming decades, we will need to strengthen their walls and build maritime defenses to protect them, “she said.
List of buildings at risk
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Walls of the garrison at St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly
Bayard’s Cove Fort, Devon
Hurst Castle, Hampshire
Calshot Castle, Hampshire
Piel Castle, Morecambe Bay