Nicholas Crane and a team of experts present a series exploring Britain's coastline. Nick meets Peter Boggis, a man trying to save his home from coastal erosion.
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With a house on the brink of toppling off the cliffs,
no insurance and no local authority planning to save it,
retired engineer Peter Boggis decided to take matters into his own hands.
Known to the press as a self-appointed King Canute,
he spent two years constructing his own sea defence.
And how much has disappeared into the sea?
Immediately opposite of here,
180 metres have gone into the sea since the end of the war.
-Yes. It is nearly half of the land.
And the most that I have ever seen is 22 metres of land going
in three consecutive nights.
So it's used as a holiday house now
because it would be a little hairy living there during the winter.
If we hadn't started the work, it would have gone over the edge about four years ago.
-So this is the frontline?
Are you working below here?
What's going on here?
We have a truck coming in which will turn here.
-What an incredible sight!
-I can't believe it. I thought we'd see the beach.
This is defending Britain.
An astonishing sight. There's trucks and mud and...
I'm absolutely stunned by the scale of this.
I was expecting something far, far smaller.
Peter's defences are far more extensive than homemade sandbags.
He's organised up to 50 trucks a day
to dump soil and clay at the base of the cliff.
It's a mutually beneficial alliance with local contractors that helps them get rid of their waste.
The bank has to be constantly topped up,
as a third of it is washed away every year.
Now, two years on, it's 500 metres long
and the retreat has been halted...for the time being.
But it's not good news for everybody.
There's some admiration
in terms of the fact that he's taken it upon himself
to protect his property.
I think one of the concerns that we would have, and I'm sure a number of other local authorities,
is if this is a precedent others might try to do the same thing.
Southwold at the moment is suffering
from the lowest beach levels in memory
and that's our biggest problem with what Mr Boggis is doing.
The cliffs that he is protecting - and it does sound callous -
that is the source of beach replenishment material
for the beaches to the south.
From 1927 to 1947, the erosion rate here was almost zero.
But as excessive sea defences were put in on adjacent areas,
it caused a loss of the beaches
and as beach levels progressively dropped so the rate of erosion increased.
The council fears that Peter's earthworks prevent sand restocking the beaches.
For Peter, the problems lie with the concrete sea walls in the town.
But what actually happens with a concrete sea defence?
It eats around the edges, the sea, rather than into it?
Well, with concrete sea defences,
very often the waves rebounds off them
with sufficient velocity to scar the beaches away.
Oh, I see! So you lose the sand.
Yes, you lose the sand's protection.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies.
That dilemma echoes all down the east coast.
Defences seem to have a knock-on effect,
shifting the force of erosion elsewhere.
Quite a number of people have said that I'm mad
but I don't mind that at all.
They'd be mad too if the sea was nibbling the bottom of the garden at the blessing of the council.
This is our home and the homes of our neighbours.
It is right to protect them.
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