Blackpool Coast


Blackpool

Hermione Cockburn investigates the astonishing rate at which the sands around Southport are disappearing into the sea, as the team visits the north west of England.


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Blackpool's a resort with global aspirations.

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Its claim, that it's the world's first working class seaside resort.

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But one visitor not here for donkey rides and ice cream

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is Hermione Cockburn. She may be an earth scientist

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but she can't avoid aircraft on this coast.

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The plane just landing behind me never leaves UK airspace.

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It belongs to the Ordnance Survey Flying Unit.

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The Ordnance Survey makes over 150 sorties a year from their base

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in Blackpool. I've come into town to meet Trevor Hilton,

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one of the unit's aerial surveyors.

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So, why Blackpool?

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We map the whole of the country

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and Blackpool's the airport nearest to the centre of Britain.

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Another advantage, as you see, is the lovely weather.

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This stretch of coast gets very good weather, a lot of sunshine,

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so we're not going to be fogbound many days, or stuck on the airport.

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-What are you actually doing up there?

-Britain has one of the most

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comprehensive mapping databases in the world, and we update that

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by various means, mainly on the ground,

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but sometimes it's more efficient to do it by air.

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The OS use a super-high resolution camera, a whopping 128 megapixels.

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The photographs are processed at their Southampton HQ.

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But computer software still needs help with detailed variations

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like new housing, roads or coastal changes. These are traced in by hand.

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This then becomes the basis for the standard OS maps we rely on.

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As somebody who's flown the entire coastline of Britain,

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-what's your favourite stretch?

-I've a few.

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Probably the west coast of Scotland is my favourite.

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There's some dramatic sights, like the Cullins arising on Skye

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straight out of the sea. Cornwall, as well.

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You can see this clear blue water, the white beaches. Only problem is

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you see these people as specks, and sometimes I wish I was down there

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enjoying myself not stuck up 5,000 feet working.

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Trevor's favourite aerial views are at opposite ends of the country,

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but one of the Ordnance Survey's biggest challenges

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is right on their doorstep.

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Formby Sands, just south of Blackpool,

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is the most dynamic dune system in England.

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Here, whole features have been wiped off the map.

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The OS are going up to photograph Formby's changing coastline,

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but with no spare room in the plane, I've come to meet coastal engineer,

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Paul Wisse, to discover what's happening on the ground.

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Paul, I'd say this is a fairly typical coastal dune system.

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What's striking about this coastline is the speed that it's rolling back.

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25 years ago, this was a caravan park where we're standing.

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So, literally, the dunes have rolled back inland and engulfed...

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Buried beneath us are caravans.

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So do, sometimes, caravans get exhumed?

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There haven't been any yet,

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but in the next couple of years it's very likely that some will...

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-pop out onto the beach.

-OK, can you see any evidence of former caravans?

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You can see, just down below us,

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an edge where the foundations of the car park were.

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I got the children, over in the distance, helping pick up

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some of the rubble, which has been washed out by the erosion.

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5,000 feet up, Trevor is taking pictures that will show us

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how Formby's dunes are shifting.

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Meanwhile, Paul and his team have taken me out to get

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the perspective from sea level.

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Paul, how fast are the dunes along this coastline changing?

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On average, over the last 100 years, they've eroded by five metres a year.

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The Sefton Coast is mainly made of sand, which is readily moulded

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by the coastal processes, such as the waves, tide, the wind.

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There used to be a cafe on Formby Point,

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-which has been lost to erosion.

-Really?

-Yeah, got some photos.

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-This was the cafe in 1958.

-Right.

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Just three years later, in 1961...

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Oh, my goodness! So that was wave action?

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That's been undermined by the coastal erosion, by the waves.

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-It's just collapsed.

-What happened to the cafe?

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According to my GPS, it's right beneath us.

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-Beneath us here? But we're 100 metres or so...

-50 metres off shore.

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AIRCRAFT ENGINE

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Look, there's the plane going over.

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The OS are up there taking our aerial survey.

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You were saying that this coastline has been eroding for 100 years,

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where would the coastline have been back then?

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Keith?

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We're going an awfully long way out!

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-Another 350 metres.

-Really?

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So right about where we are now, is where the coast was in 1906.

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That is incredible.

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-We're half a kilometre from the dunes!

-Yes.

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That's half a kilometre of Lancashire coast wiped off the map

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in just 100 years. The dramatic erosion here at Formby

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is a combination of the soft sand and high tidal range.

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What I want to know is how the Ordnance Survey's aerial photographs

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capture the history of this eroding coastline.

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-Hi, Trevor!

-Hiya!

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So how did you get on? How was Formby Sands from the air?

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We've got a couple of photos here that we took earlier at Formby.

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-Right.

-It was a beautiful morning.

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It looks fantastic! You can really see the line of the dunes, there.

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We've got an earlier shot, here, taken back in 1978.

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-You can see here a caravan park. See this bend, here?

-Yep.

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-That bend there.

-So that's the caravan park that's now

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-completely buried by these dunes?

-Indeed, yes.

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How soon before we can expect to see these changes on these kind of maps?

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Every week we're producing new sheets, and individual sheets,

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it will be a number of years depending on rate of change.

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So next time you're on the beach and a plane flies overhead,

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it may be adding you to the map of Britain.

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There are changes happening around our coast

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that don't show up on the map.

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The recent influx of migrant workers is one of them.

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My name's Rafal Sekulski. Everybody calls me Ralf.

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It's shorter. I come from Poland, and I work on Big One.

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SCREAMING

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It's the biggest roller coaster in Europe, 235 feet up,

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up to 85 miles an hour you going on it.

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Part of my job is to make sure that people are safe on Big One.

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And they have fun.

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The first time coming here I didn't really want to go on it,

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cos I really scared of heights, but they pushed me in a train.

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SCREAMING

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I was really scared the first time.

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When I went out of the train my legs were shaking, but now it's OK.

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There's about seven or eight thousand Polish in Blackpool.

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Sometimes when I walk on the prom, every second person speak Polish!

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I just turn around, "oh, my God!" So many of them.

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Sometimes I get a feeling like I'm on Baltic Sea, you know?

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And the English are just foreigners who came abroad!

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# I read the news today, oh boy... #

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8,000 Poles in Blackpool, Lancashire - who'd have thought it?

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In the north west of England, Hermione Cockburn investigates the astonishing rate at which the sands around Southport are disappearing into the sea, and how Ordnance Survey maps keep up with the changing coastline.

Neil Oliver learns that there are around 8,000 Polish people living and working in Blackpool.


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