Documentary following life on the English Channel. A new coastal defence is running out of rocks as nearly £1 million worth of granite is stuck out at sea.
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Stretching from Land's End to Dover,
this is the busiest seaway in the world.
And come hell or high water...
-Three, two, one... Firing!
No amount of training can ever prepare you for what we faced that night.
..it's open for business, 365 days a year.
Over 90% of the world's trade travels by sea.
It's not just TVs and refrigerators, it's everything around us.
Teeming with every type of vessel...
Everyone on board reckons their job is the hardest.
..and a rich diversity of wildlife...
..it's kept safe by those who patrol its seaways.
Try and get onto the boat!
Their actions standing between triumph...
-Ease up! Ease up!
..on the unpredictable waters of the English Channel.
Today, a new coastal defence is running out of rocks,
as nearly £1 million worth of granite is stuck out at sea.
We've got a 2-metre swell running up and down this side of the ship.
-We won't be discharging anything.
-We won't be discharging today.
A young naval officer is handing control of an aircraft
to swoop down on ships in the Channel.
And grub's up on the way to France.
But there's only one thing anyone wants to eat.
We sell about 600 tonnes of chips and about...
just under 60 tonnes of mushy peas.
Fish and chips is our biggest seller by far and away,
500,000 portions a year.
The English Channel has been eroding the coastline
ever since Britain split from France more than 200,000 years ago.
It's a large mass of water, nearly 180 metres deep in places.
That's the equivalent of over 40 double-decker buses.
But when the weather's bad and there are spring tides,
it can wreak havoc on those living on the coast.
The waves have just taken away the ground work,
the ballast, that used to be underneath the track,
leaving Brunel's famous railway track just hanging there, unsupported.
And there's another high tide coming in right now.
You just wonder, will that piece of track even survive?
Last winter, a combination of high tides and bad weather caused
widespread flooding in the low-lying coastal plain in Somerset.
The Somerset Levels is a part of Britain that's been
reclaimed from the sea over thousands of years.
It's not the only area of the country vulnerable to
the sea's attempts to re-occupy its natural seabed.
This is Rye in East Sussex.
Once it was surrounded on three sides by the English Channel.
But ever since Roman times,
we've been reclaiming tidal land from the sea,
and thousands of people live and work here.
Rye is connected to the English Channel
by two miles of the River Rother.
Rye Harbour is the first line of defence against Mother Nature.
This is all salt marsh out here,
so that's where the tide occasionally gets up onto the land
and obviously the earth embankment is the defence behind.
As you can see, the land the other side of the defence is
actually lower than the water now.
So, without the defence, that land would be flooded
and you can see the number of properties on the outskirts
of towns like Rye, that those defences are protecting.
The importance of the salt marsh is when the tide is really high,
they absorb some of that energy, as the water comes in.
So they're a really important part of the defences in the area anyway.
So, there's a lot of marine activity around these places.
These have actually got newer defences behind, protecting the town.
It's up to the environment agency to manage the flood defences,
protecting the homes and businesses around the harbour.
A concrete wall there, that is the defence line.
The green door, that's one of the flood doors that we close
when the tides are particularly high.
Obviously, these marinas then get flooded.
All the way through Rye, we've got lots of flood doors
that we have to close when we get an exceptionally high tide.
And then this is the flood embankment through Rye.
When we're building these things, it can be really complicated
because you're working in and out of people's gardens,
in and out of people's properties. So they're really quite complicated.
And we have to keep inspecting them to make sure that people
aren't building sheds on them or...damaging them in any way.
Architects and property developers have to adapt their schemes
to accommodate high water.
The defence actually goes underneath the houses, through the houses.
You can see this brick wall here.
That ramp is the flood defence, so where that wall is at the top
of that ramp, that's where the flood wall goes through, under the houses.
And these houses are designed with open spaces underneath
that are allowed to flood.
That's why the actual accommodation level is built
up above the flood level.
Last December, when we had the big surge tide,
the water actually got within about a foot of the top of these walls.
So you can see the impact they have.
The latest project to hold back the sea is down the coast
at Broomhill Sands, near Camber.
Giant boulders of rock protecting homes and businesses
behind the sea wall, which is sat two metres below sea level.
The next delivery of granite has arrived from Norway.
But nearly £1 million worth of rocks are stuck out in the Channel.
Paul and Ian need to head up the river to work out
if they can get them onshore.
It's not long before they are confronted with a problem.
-Hold on to your hats, folks!
-Yeah! It's going to get rough in a minute!
If the weather continues to cause rough sea,
they won't be able to get the rocks brought in to shore.
So we've got a 20mph westerly wind coming through.
We've got a large swell building up through the bay.
I think it's very marginal whether we can get that rock off.
Yeah, I think, well, we'll go out and have a look.
A few miles offshore, a barge the size of a football pitch
is stranded, waiting to be off-loaded.
This is basically a 20,000 tonne trailer that is towed from here
to Norway and back.
It's recycled. It's material that comes from a quarry where they're actually
looking for high-quality granite for work surfaces, etc.
And this is the leftover materials. Granite is REALLY hard rock.
The sea can be hitting this for the next hundred years
and it will barely touch it.
When this is empty, a tug will come and tow this back to Norway.
It will be refilled and another 27,000 tonnes brought here for us.
So, we've got the barge sitting about three miles offshore here,
waiting to be unloaded. Each barge load is about £900,000.
The weather has to be calm enough for the boulders to be
transferred to a smaller barge, to take them towards the beach.
Yeah, I see what he means about it being quite choppy.
Heavy lumps of rock and high seas do not mix.
We've got a two-metre swell running up and down this side of the ship.
-We won't be discharging today.
-We won't be discharging today.
Each one of those rocks is between five and ten tonnes.
Drop a boulder in the sea, that becomes a hazard to navigation.
The 10-tonne ones have to be recovered within 24 hours.
It would be difficult to recover anything in these conditions,
so, erm, we just wouldn't be considering the operation.
-We'll have another look tomorrow.
For now, the rocks will have to stay out at sea.
Back on land, you can clearly see why they need the boulders.
Based on an ancient principle,
they're building a slope of rock to absorb the power of the sea.
The Broomhill Sands project is costing £30 million over 18 months.
Any delays can be costly and they need to know
the contractors have got enough rocks to be getting on with.
So, the rock were placing at Broomhill today is
all about what the conditions are going to be in 100 years' time
and making sure we can defend our coast.
The key thing is the future storminess of the sea.
Er, climate change models predict that there will be a lot more
energy in storms in the future, so our new defences have to be
designed to take all of that into the equation.
At least the kite surfers are enjoying the conditions.
The diggers at the Broomhill site carry on regardless.
But right now, there's just a giant hole in the beach.
How much rock we got left there?
Well, the team are telling us one and a half to two years.
So, we really need this wind to start dying down now.
Get them over on that big barge.
If the weather doesn't ease up in the next few days,
the whole project will come to a grinding halt.
What we don't want to do is run out of rock because the tides are
right for the placement and that'll slow the whole job up, really.
It's frustrating for the contractor
because it adds to the cost of the project if we get delayed,
with not being able to place rock because it's a big portion of the scheme.
So, yeah, it's a time-critical activity
getting the rock off the barge and onshore.
As the day ends, the weather's calming down and there's hope
they can bring in more boulders tomorrow.
The English Channel is 350 miles long, from Cornwall to Kent.
There's nearly 30,000 square miles of water for shipping to negotiate.
In the skies above, the Royal Navy are training for war
and always on standby to help identify
suspicious vessels in the Channel.
This is RNAS Culdrose, a Royal Navy air base
on the south-west tip of Cornwall, on the Lizard Peninsula.
It's the largest helicopter base in Europe, with 75 aircraft
and 3,000 people helping to operate them.
It's home to 750 Squadron,
a unit that trains the people in charge on board a Navy aircraft.
Sub-lieutenant Phil Reid is being trained to become
a Royal Naval Observer, ready to serve as part of the team
flying Merlin and Wildcat helicopters.
The role of a Royal Naval Observer is that they will
fly in the Wildcat and the Merlin helicopters
and their principal job is to fly aircraft from ships,
aircraft carriers, that we get in service shortly,
and the frigates and the destroyers,
to collect information to protect the ships.
And the observer is there, principally for navigation,
And he's got a God's-eye view
of what's going on in that particular space.
Phil is building up to a flight over the English Channel,
where he needs to map ships.
But before he can do the real thing,
he has to run through the trip on a flight simulator.
I think simulators are as important as flying, erm,
it's something we do a lot in our career.
You have to get used to trying to make it a realistic environment,
trying to get into your head that it is real.
If we go up into the air and it's all totally new,
it can be really difficult with all the added factors...
The noise, the vibration, the sickening feeling.
So, you've got to make the most of that and learn how to use...
manipulate the kit properly to give you the best results
and then in the air and everything becomes a bit easier.
We're going into the sim.
In a training environment, searching and identifying contacts
and then going nice and low...and to identify them visually and then
slowly it will ramp up to doing it in the aircraft out of the South West.
Guiding Phil through the simulated flight is his tutor,
Lieutenant Cmdr Matt Round.
Well, he'll be learning how to approach ships in the Channel
and today, specifically,
they're going to be looking at how to approach ships in IMC,
which is instrument-mapped conditions, so in poor Met weather conditions.
For security reasons, we're not allowed to film the training screen.
I'm going to resume the sim.
I want you to use the standard techniques to build five contacts
-in your area.
-Are you happy with that?
What Phil's practising on the simulator is an operation
known as a SENS op.
He is building up a picture of what's out at sea through his radar
and relaying that information back to RNAS Culdrose.
As an observer, his job is to instruct the pilot
when to swoop down low and fly over boats to identify them.
We certainly put the students here through their paces.
They're with us for a good 16 weeks.
And on day one, I promise them I will take them
to the edge of their abilities and beyond.
It's the best way to learn, isn't it? We do it in the sim.
It's all well and good. It doesn't move.
It doesn't shake, it's not noisy and the comms load is very easy
in the sim, given that you're talking to one person.
As you can see, out in the real aircraft,
everything is a bit more difficult. Everything is a bit more cramped.
With the sense op completed, Phil has the chance to relax with
some of his fellow trainee observers.
Erm, certainly, when I come down, there is a lot of, erm,
perceived pressure, on ourselves.
We all do want to get to the end of the course.
I can kind of see the end and it's an uphill struggle.
But it's good fun and we'll make it to the other end, I hope!
It is tough. We're not here to fail. No-one is here trying to fail us.
We're here to pass and we're here to come out the other end,
erm, as...almost-trained observers.
In a matter of hours, Phil must take to the air
and swap a simulated computer exercise for the real thing.
He'll have to take charge of an aircraft and its pilot
and complete a live operation.
The Channel is one of the busiest seaways in the world.
But whereas many vessels travel its length,
some do nothing but cross it.
The ferry business has grown,
ever since the start of the 20th century, when the people
of Britain began travelling to continental Europe for holidays.
More than 15 million of us cross the Channel every year.
Ferries are now a crucial transport link for the exchange of goods
with the rest of Europe.
The shortest way across is Dover to Calais.
Giant ferries have been constructed
especially for this busy stretch of water and this is one of
the largest vessels crossing the English Channel.
The Spirit of France makes five return trips every day.
It takes 90 minutes for the ship
to get to Dover-Calais, or Calais-Dover.
And then we've got 45 minutes, roughly,
between each sailing of arrival and embarkation.
That could be unloading 2,000 passengers, erm,
and loading 2,000 passengers. Within that 45-minute period.
There's a lot of key tasks that need to be carried out in that time.
Cleaning the ship, preparing the food for the next service
and obviously making sure that the ship is ready to go to sea again.
With just an hour and a half at sea, and hungry passengers,
the ferry is effectively a floating restaurant with on-board parking.
This is one of our coffee shops on board.
We've got one at the front of the ship and also one at the back of the ship and...
where we serve a combination of spirits and soft drinks.
There's something about being at sea that seems to affect
the passengers' food choice.
Fish and chips, I think, they're on the sea,
they are on a ferry, you know, going from Dover to Calais,
the White Cliffs of Dover
and they just naturally feel as if they want fish and chips.
On one crossing, we could serve up to 400 or 500 portions of fish.
And one crossing being 90 minutes, during the day,
where we could carry up to 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 passengers,
it's very busy.
And that kind of volume has to come from somewhere.
This warehouse has £3 million worth of supplies,
ready to cater for 15 different ferries.
We deliver and store
all the goods for the entire P&O fleet,
just through this one warehouse.
Making sure each crossing has enough provisions
for the number of people on board is a unique logistical proposition.
We've got about 4,000 pallets of storage.
We have a wide variety of goods, from fresh fish, fresh meat,
fruit and veg to general dry stores and goods.
From food products to retail, perfumes
and confectionery lines, to plates and cutlery and cups and saucers.
If you've seen it on board the ship,
it's most likely to have come through us.
After the ferry puts in its order, the warehouse has less than 24 hours
to load the container truck and get it on the road.
Eight out of ten items are for the popular Dover-Calais route.
That makes up probably about 80% of our actual outgoings here.
So, that's our main line that we actually store for.
So, we've got the five ships that we actually store for
every single day. We can have a container fully loaded,
so, up to 26 pallets per day, going out. And that's over six days.
The operation is a well-oiled machine
but it doesn't always go smoothly.
You know, probably the worst thing that's been wrong is
one of the guys on a forklift actually took out
one of the sprinkler units,
really just, so to speak, opened the floodgates.
Within about 10 minutes, there was
about four inches deep of water, freezing as well!
The warehouse is full to the rafters,
with approximately 4,000 pallets,
a third of which is food and beverage,
all chosen by chief buyer Dave Lewis.
I buy all food for all the restaurants.
So, everything from the fish right down to, er,
the cakes and cheesecakes and everything in between.
We sell a lot of Toblerones. We sell enough Toblerone to go
to the moon and back. It's one of our biggest confectionery lines.
With chocolate from Switzerland and chips from Holland going back
over the Channel, it's an international effort.
But the ship does have its limitations.
It's not as easy as a restaurant. Our ship is moving all the time.
It's not like we can just put an extra kitchen on the back
or anything along those lines. It's really quite a challenge.
With food being such an important part of getting across the Channel,
Dave has to put his body on the line.
So, we do everything from mayonnaise tasting, which, trust me,
on a Monday morning is not the best thing to be tasting,
when you're tasting five or six different mayonnaises.
And then really nice things, when were tasting pies or cheesecakes.
That's when I get a lot more volunteers helping me - tasting these products.
And as a British company operating at sea,
the reputation of an important national dish is in his hands.
Fish and chips is our biggest seller, by far and away,
500,000 portions a year.
We sell about 600 tonnes of chips and about...
Just under 60 tonnes of mushy peas each year.
That's a lot of fish and chips!
The fish consumed on the Channel has actually been caught
hundreds of miles away and landed in the North of England.
Well, the fish that are brought in, that's actually come from Hull
and that fish actually gets sourced from the North Atlantic.
I want people to be proud and to say, "I ate on P&O and had the best fish and chips I've had!"
Back on board, the fish has travelled south to Dover
and it's only a matter of hours
before it's in the hands of the chefs.
With hundreds of hungry customers about to descend on the restaurant,
the chefs have seen a shift in nautical eating habits.
It used to be so that way that people would traditionally
eat more fish on a Friday.
But nowadays, it's a dish they would eat seven days a week.
As passenger numbers fluctuate,
they have to be ready for every eventuality.
Our figures went from 200 to 1,100 on one crossing.
And of course that causes problems and we have to step up to the mark
and provide the extra food for these passengers wanting to eat.
With such varying numbers of passengers from day to day,
it's vital the warehouse supplies arrive on the ship
within the 45-minute docking window.
If the crew misses the deadline, it costs the company in lost revenue
and delays the rest of the day's crossings.
But technology is improving the process
and has made turnaround times in the ferry industry much faster.
The whole ramp will go up to make a big opening.
Then this platform all goes straight up
and that will sit on the bottom car deck.
The truck carrying the container of supplies has to be unloaded quickly.
Once the truck is in place, the crew have just minutes
to pull off the pallets before the ferry departs.
Roughly about seven or eight minutes, we can take 26 pallets of stock
without affecting the discharge or the load of the ship.
With an entire container of fresh food and supplies unloaded,
the Spirit of France just manages to depart on time.
And within a few minutes, the hungry passengers get their order in.
I think I'm going to have fish and chips.
-Would you like a slice of lemon?
The English Channel is a significant training ground for the Royal Navy.
The Navy's air squadrons, based along the coast,
are also on standby to help the civilian maritime agencies,
should any vessels be identified as a threat.
This is the Royal Navy's base at Culdrose.
It's a large operations centre for the Navy's helicopters
and the headquarters of the 750 Squadron
that trains all the Royal Navy observers.
Sub Lieutenant Phil Reid is a trainee observer.
If he passes his course, he'll be in charge of all navigation kit on board an aircraft
and the technology that helps identify military targets at sea.
I'm from Plymouth, erm...
born and bred, just the Cornish side.
I spent my childhood and my teenage years on the sea
and here I am in a job working just off the south coast
protecting that sort of asset, to me, I suppose.
So, the sea has always been part of my life
and the Navy is the logical choice really.
There's always been plenty of military flying over the top
of where I live and it's that moment when you look up as a kid
and think, "I want to do what he does."
So, here I am doing my best.
Today, Phil is flying in his first SENS op.
He'll be in charge of a fixed wing plane on a mission mapping
the ships in the English Channel.
It's just a busy, fun place, isn't it?
You've got everything from your commercial shipping
to the local fishermen that I know quite well at home
who go out every day, catch lobsters and crabs in tiny pots
and it's important, being the island nation that we are,
we have to protect the shipping around us
and the shipping coming from wherever it is in the world.
First stop is a briefing with his tutor for some last-minute checks.
-How are you feeling about this of the day?
-The sim went well.
I did my first SENS observer flight, so we'll see.
We're getting down to the bread-and-butter of what we're
trying to achieve as a maritime observer
so this will be the exciting bit,
but maybe the more challenging bit of the course.
Phil is about a third of the way through the course
so what he's done before, the SENS op sortie...
he's done some very basic navigation skills.
What we're now letting Phil loose with is the radar.
You see the sort of bulge in the underbelly of the aircraft,
that has got the radar in there
and we're going to teach Phil to use the radar
to gather some information and to see what he can see
that's out in the Channel patrolling around.
You seem to be pretty confident in the sense that you had some
good activity in one go.
I'd like you to take that forward, please, all right?
Have you got any questions for me?
No, I'm sure some will come up, probably when I'm in the air
-and it's too late. That's OK.
Before they can go anywhere, they do the final checks.
Most of the Navy observers
will be working on Merlin or Wildcat helicopters,
but they train in fixed-wing planes
because they are cheaper to operate.
Helicopters are notoriously expensive to run and to maintain.
The aircraft you see behind me are pretty cheap to run
and for some of the training that we're delivering here at 750,
this is the cornerstone of what they do, the fundamentals of what they do.
So, it's far better
and more cost-effective to teach it on an aircraft such as this.
But using the right equipment and technology, you can train,
emulate and mimic a lot of the jobs that they'll be doing
in the Merlin and the Wildcat helicopters.
There's no turning back now.
Everything Phil has learnt has built up to today.
His tutor keeps a watchful eye,
but Phil is in charge of the plane and it's not long before
they're up over the Channel and his mission has begun.
'They're under an awful lot of pressure
'every time we take them up in the air.'
They will do in excess of 23 flights
and pretty much the same again in the simulator.
Everyone is assessed, and the way I liken it to them,
it's like doing your driving test every day.
So that's in excess of 50 driving tests that you do whilst you're here
under that same pressure.
The radar picks up a small fishing boat and Phil has to decide whether
he's got time to divert and take the plane down for a closer look.
He's got to figure out what those radar returns are.
It's a dot of light on his screen.
At the same time, he's also got to manage his aircraft,
got to direct and guide his crew
and communicate his intentions to the rest of the crew.
So it's quite a tough job and he's got quite a few plates to spin.
With the fishing boat identified and mapped,
there's a bigger blip on the radar.
It's a huge car carrier.
With the SENS op nearly completed, they head back to Cornwall.
-Yes, happy with that. OK, channel 6, I want you to form two.
Channel 8 on Uniform 1 and we'll go for a recovery...
After successfully identifying a number of vessels,
the operation seems to have gone well.
But Phil will have to wait a bit longer to see
whether he's passed this particular test.
There is no better way to learn to protect our seas at home
and abroad than to go out into the Channel and find real shipping.
We use real shipping,
real radar and we use real procedures that are going to take us forward
onto the back of warships
and helicopters or operational squadrons here at Culdrose
or at RNAS Yeovilton.
I enjoyed it. It was a good day for it.
We ended up on top of all the contacts that I tried to get us
on top of and we got back safely on time.
And those, from the brief, were my objectives.
But we'll wait and see if the instructor disagrees with me, I suppose.
In the end, only his tutor's opinion will count
and Phil has to face Lieutenant Commander Matt Round
to hear the verdict on his efforts.
What was this contact?
Small group of fishing vessels.
Yes, small fishing vessel which we only actually detected
in the smaller ranges.
So, in terms of your aggression,
how would I sum up your desire to go and do a homing here?
Keen. Like you said in the aircraft, you said,
"Are you going to go for it?"
"How brave are you feeling?" Yeah. It was good.
I really like the fact you were determined to do that.
I tell you now, a lot of students would have gone,
"No, I think I'll go for the easy one." All right?
-But that should hold you in good stead for later in the phase.
So, well done. Overall, being a positive person as you are...
-Always. Pretty good.
-Yeah. Pretty damn good, all right?
And some really nice touches. So, well done. It's a good pass.
Have you got any questions for me?
No. Fine, thank you.
I'll have my pencil back!
Phil, it appears, can stay,
and after less than 20 hours' flying experience,
he survives to fly another day.
I feel... Yeah, relieved. Erm... And just quite positive.
I'm not over the moon, there's loads more work to do.
We're only two thirds of the way through the course,
but actually it was a great day to go flying.
It wasn't bumpy, it was fairly quiet, we found the ships we needed
and we came back in one piece.
There's not a huge amount more you can ask for on a day's flying here.
In a matter of weeks, 750 Squadron will have a new group
of observers trained up to take to the air and help keep our seas safe.
Not just over the Channel,
but wherever in the world Britain's interests lie.
Ever since Roman times,
we've been taking back land from the English Channel.
Reclaimed areas now support new homes and businesses
that are vital to the British economy.
But they are low-lying areas and need protecting
from the combination of high tides
and storms which can bring the full force of the sea inland.
Homes and communities can be devastated
and it's a constant battle to maintain the man-made defences
all along the English Channel that hold back the sea.
In East Sussex, the Environment Agency is building
a new sea defence system at Broomhill Sands.
It's a £30 million project protecting the land behind
that is two metres below sea level.
After two days of bad weather, they've got to make up time.
-Oh, yeah, there she is.
-There she is, yeah. Dead-flat sea.
Today, the sea is calm enough for a small barge
to bring in the next load of Norwegian granite boulders.
While they come in to shore, Ian and Paul inspect
the old sea wall that was built around 65 years ago.
What we can see here is the old sort of 1950s defence that was put in.
The concrete block works actually are in really good condition
because of the maintenance that's been done since the 1950s.
We've been keeping shingle on top of this existing defence
to keep it in really good condition.
So it's made it really easy to build the new defence,
so that we have never, ever got to worry about,
during the construction period, not having some form of defence in place.
It's worked well.
But as the population increases,
so does the need to hold back the English Channel.
There's about 14,000 properties that this £30 million scheme protects,
so it's a really essential part for,
not just the people who live out on the Romney Marsh, but also for
the businesses out there, but some really important habitats as well.
With the small barge inshore at last, they have to unload
the granite as quick as they can before they run out of deep water.
They can only be dropped off at high tide,
so they are far enough up the beach to be picked up at low tide.
These are ten-tonne lumps of rock he's chucking off there.
The idea is, at high tide, they come in, they throw the rock off,
and we gradually build up piles of rock, and, erm...
A few guys wandering around here, they're getting ready.
As the tide goes out, we then start placing the rock onshore,
and that's its final destination.
Norway to Camber in a simple journey.
It takes about two hours to unload a full load from the barge,
so he's getting near the end.
You can see the tug's obviously working really hard,
just holding the barge in place.
At the back, it's actually anchored,
but because of the tidal currents, the currents are wanting to push
the barge round, so the tug's really working hard to hold it in place.
There'll be another load tonight that will be unloaded in the dark,
and tomorrow morning, they'll be ready to come straight in
and hit that again, so, erm, yeah, it's constant work, constant work.
Another 20 minutes and it will be empty,
and then the machines can start going to work.
-Excellent. 20 minutes?
-I think so.
With its cargo unloaded, the little barge is taken back
to the mother barge by the tug,
to be fed with more boulders to bring to shore.
At low tide, the piles of rock that were covered in water are revealed.
The team of diggers have just a few hours to get the rocks
shifted up the beach before high tide.
The sloping granite boulder jigsaw is delicately put together
against the clock...
..like a herd of mechanical dinosaurs building a nest,
operated by a small but close-knit team.
Name's Perry, and I do the rock placing
for Ovenden Earthworks and Sea Defence
along with a couple of other guys.
As soon as the tide starts going out and you can get on the beach
to do the job, you've got to get down there and crack on with it
and get it done before the tide comes in and beats you again.
Rolling it around.
I was always brought up on the farms, driving tractors
and things like that, and I suppose it's in your blood, really.
But, yeah, it is a big boy's toy, definitely.
What they're building is known as a revetment.
It's a sloping structure made on banks to absorb
the energy of the incoming water.
First of all, they put down the geotextile,
which is a reinforcement material. It's really, really strong,
but it ensures that the rock we put in,
individual rocks, can't sink.
It holds them stably on the ground,
and then they'll build the rock up around that.
With just over an hour left to high tide,
speed and accuracy are crucial.
You pick up different rocks, and you'll go to put it in, check it on the screen,
if it's not the right level,
you either have to turn it around or take it out
and find another one that'll fit, and put that rock somewhere else,
and that's how you carry on
until you achieve the revetment that you want.
It is a challenge, yeah. I found it very difficult to learn to do.
Yeah, all the rocks that are put in there,
they're all put into a set level, so if you look along it,
they all look like they're the same level, which they are,
and all to within a specified measurement.
Record all the data on the GPS, and it goes back to the office,
and they sort of download it
and make sure it's all going in there right.
Back in the design office,
they build up a picture of progress against the drawings.
It's a combination of an ancient design,
managed by digital-age software.
We get the data from the crane.
They have a complete positioning system, so the bucket can be
exactly known in position, and the crane operator logs the data.
They give the data to me, and I present it here in my survey system.
The grey represents how far they've dug down,
and is covered with a geotextile material the rocks are put onto.
The dark red, smooth layer is the ideal angle they've designed
for the rock slope, known as the design level.
The light green peaks are where the boulders have ended up
when the diggers have put them in place.
The different colours represent the different levels
that the rock is being placed at,
and what we're looking for is the red to be just completely
covered by effectively the green and the blue, which is below water level.
So, as these operators are placing the rock in the cab, they're checking
that they're working above the design level,
but only just above the design level, because obviously if you go too high
above the design level, then we're actually wasting materials.
In the old days, we have to mark it first,
where the level should be, of the work, and nowadays,
the crane operator can work for himself.
He can see everything, and so it's much faster than it used to be.
It's made me very happy!
What it looks like as it's coming onshore is we're just
chucking a load of old rocks onto the beach,
but actually it's a really cleverly designed piece of civil engineering
to make sure that we absorb as much of the wave energy
as it comes ashore as we possibly can.
The total length of the rock here at Broomhill, the rock revetment,
is about 1,400 metres, and so far we've done about 800,
so we're just a little way over halfway through.
Keep going, keep going.
Go on, go on, go on.
Keep going, keep going...
Back on the beach, daylight's running out,
and the last few boulders are put in place.
Can you go onto rock now, please, mate?
-Yeah, will do.
'It's a big team effort.
'You know, it's not just down to one person putting the rocks in.
'You need somebody that does the dig at the right level,
'you need somebody else that's going to load the rocks at a decent speed
'to get them over to you so you can get them in,
'and you've all got to be aware of each other,
'so we've all got two-way radios, communicating all the time.'
See where my grab is? That's where you need to be tipping.
Are you listening?
It's not a bad job. It's all right. Quite enjoy it.
Site supervisor Ashley Frampton is making sure
the seven-metre foundations are filled in correctly.
Ash, how's it going, then?
So, we've got all the rock ashore now, and the machines are working.
-Yeah, not too bad.
They started about 40 minutes ago, started placing some rock
down at the bottom after putting in a geotextile, erm...
Building up slowly, placing shingle back on the rock,
so they can keep working up.
Erm, yeah, it's progressing pretty well, actually.
Good weather means good progress.
The ironic thing about this job is that it's quite difficult
to build some of the fences when the storm was going on,
as you can't get the materials in,
and you can't really work in it either.
Days like today help us move on that much quicker.
Easier to get out, easier to see what you're doing,
-so yeah, better weather makes for better work, really.
And of course, when people walk along here
when the scheme's complete, they won't know anything about it.
No, no. There'll be people walking along here sort of thinking
they've got the sand and shingle, and not knowing that
three or four metres beneath them is a couple of thousand tonnes of rock.
-The very start of the defence, the protection.
Over the next five years,
they'll be spending another £150 million on this shoreline.
In the far distance, the cliffs that would have been the shore
all the way around us,
and of course, the construction of these sea walls,
which started 2,000 years ago, in effect,
is an important part of the local economy,
so what we're doing today makes that sustainable into the future
for at least the next 200 years,
so it's really important to the local area that we maintain these defences.
There are thousands of people who own businesses, properties, et cetera,
out on the Romney Marsh and, of course,
this sea defence is protecting them from the sea.
'You can look back over it and see what you've done
'and see it's going to be there for a long time.
'It is a sense of achievement.
'We all take pride in what we do, the whole team.'
I don't know if it'll be a million years, but it'll be a long time.
I don't think I need to worry about doing it again!
So we just carry on now till the early hours,
until it's all done and we're up to the top, then go home to bed.
And have another go tomorrow.
Those that live and work on the English Channel
know it can both give and take away.
It remains a powerful source of natural energy
that must be treated with respect.
A new coastal defence is running out of rocks as nearly £1 million worth of granite is stuck out at sea, a young naval officer is handed control of an aircraft to swoop down on ships in the Channel, and grub's up on the way to France, but there's only one thing anyone wants to eat.
The winter of 2012/2013 showed just how devastating the Channel can be to those living along the coast or on reclaimed land, when extreme bad weather and high tides caused the collapse of the Dawlish train line and extensive flooding of the Somerset levels. The Environment Agency are in the midst of an extensive programme to renew flood defences protecting homes and businesses. But as a team near Camber Sands discovers, carrying out flood defence work in the middle of winter can be a tricky business, especially when the Channel gets choppy.
The Royal Navy's airbase at Culdrose in Cornwall is the largest helicopter base in Europe, with 75 aircraft and 3,000 people helping to operate them. And the Channel's waters provide an ideal training ground for 750 Squadron as it puts the next generation of naval observers through their paces. Today, sub-lieutenant Phil Reid is in the hotseat as he carries out a spotting mission above the sea.
While Phil's focus is on his eyes, for others it's their stomachs. 15 million of us cross the Channel every year by ferry, and when it comes to the food, there's one thing we all want to tuck into. The catering crews on board P&O's ferries serve up 500,000 portions of fish and chips to hungry customers every year. And with deliveries of fish coming in fresh every day, it's a complicated logistical exercise involving many different individuals to get it from warehouse to fork.