The Devastating Impact one Storm has on Devon's Coastline

The devastating impact a storm had on the Devon beach of bigbury and bantham during storm bella in the UK 2021


The Damage one Storm caused to Devon's Bigbury Beach - Climate change or a Freak weather event?


The Date - 26th December 2020 - Just after Christmas storm Bella hits the UK bringing high winds and heavy rain to its shores. Bringing widespread Flooding and Travel disruptions. The effect it has on one of Devon's most popular beaches is easy to see.


Bigbury Beach in Devon's South Hams is a popular tourist destination for sun seekers and bathers alike, and despite its relatively sheltered location, being on the edge of the English Channel, sheltered from the full brunt of the Atlantic Ocean and the storms that entail. The area provides a vast opportunity for sea going activities,  from surfing to sailing.


Bigbury beach on a calm day with Burgh island in the background and the pilchard hotel

Bigbury beach looking across to Burgh Island


  Bigbury gets very busy during the summer months with surfers and bathers using the beach

Bigbury gets busy in the Summer months with Bathers and Surfers.


Being one of my local beaches I have been visiting Bigbury for several years with the area becoming a firm staple in my life, and despite the landscape undergoing rhythmic changes by the constant onslaught of the tide. The area has maintained a constant and unaltered appearance over the years.


Even when the arctic storm Emma hit the UK in 2018, shutting down most of the country for several days and destroying the local Slapton Coastal road, Bigbury remained in a relatively unaltered state.


The damaged Slapton coastal road after Storm Emma pounds the British coast in 2018.


So why did storm Bella have such a huge impact? The storm tracked straight over the top of the UK and at that point it was still a vortex storm bringing in wind gusts of up to 70 mph winds.

However it's the spiral shape of the storm that caused so much damage. The vortex forced winds up and along the English channel opposed to straight over the land where it would have lost strength.

This concentrated the winds and power of the sea on to the coastal regions along the channel.


 Storm Bella vortex can be seen over the UK in December 2020.



The impact can be seen across the beach in the following pictures from a visit a few days later.


Storm bella removed almost a meter of sand from the beach

Storm Bella removed almost a meter of sand from the beach in just a few hours, you can see the different sand levels by the growth on the rock, I'm just under 2m in height by the way.



Bigbury with all the sand washed out to sea

It also washed all the sand away from the entrance to the beach, before this 90% of these rocks were covered.


Storms on the south devon coast

The difference can be seen from this picture taken a few years before.



A different view of the entrance to the beach.



Cables exposed by the tide on Bigbury beach

Cables and water pipes that feed Burgh Island were also exposed by the storm.


The main question to me was where had all the sand gone? and had it affected the causeway to Burgh IslandIf it had this could have a significant impact on the amount of hours the island was available for access, since the causeway is tidal.


Bigbury and burgh island at high tide with the causeway covered 

The Causeway fully covered during high tide.


That one remains to be answered and time will tell how it effects the islands access and the schedule of the sea tractors crossings. Hopefully the beach will recover, it many need more aggregate bringing in, although that is the least of the countries worries at present with Covid alarge.


Has it has an affect on anywhere else? Well the below map is a view of the river exit onto South Milton sands beach in South Devon, about a 10 min boat trip from Bigbury, if you zoom in, you can clearly see the shape of the river existing into the sea. as it bends around by the public toilets, well now the river continues straight past the toilets before it bends around.


The google map image clearly shows the river bending perpendicular to the sea.



The river at South Milton Sands changed direction due to Storm Bella

Due to storm Bella the river now continues past the Public toilets and enters the sea at an angle.


So is this global warming of just a freak event? it's hard to say but we can say for sure that we seem to be seeing more and more freak events and record years for temperature and weather in the UK and they are almost certainly linked.


Has this happened to one of your local beaches? Let us know in the comments


If you have liked this article why not check out our Photographic Prints of Bantham including this image.



What's your favorite things to do Dartmoor? Let us know in the Comments box below!

You might find our blog on the 10 Best Short Dartmoor Walks useful

Find out more about Devon Villages to Visit in our Devon Guide

Meet the Author:

I am a Devon based photographer, who enjoys travel, hiking, rugby and photographing the beautiful world in which we live in, I see photography as a creative expression upon visiting beautiful places. Each picture often tells a story.

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Sebastien Coell Photography

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