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Valentine's Day 2014 storm leads to lasting legacy for New Forest's coastal expert

Damage to Hurst Spit after 2014 storms The way parts of the UK coastline and beyond are managed is set to change thanks to world-leading research by a renowned coastal engineer from New Forest District Council. 

A new study into how gravel beaches change shape in response to the combination of ocean swell and waves caused by wind has been published through the Institution of Civil Engineers. The paper is based on research started on the New Forest coastline by the former head of our Coastal Protection Team, Professor Andy Bradbury, and completed by members of his team after his death.

While our coastline might appear natural and untouched, most of it is carefully managed to protect coastal habitats and communities. New Forest District Council's coastal engineers and scientists manage 40 miles of shoreline. As part of a national programme of monitoring, a council team based at the Channel Coastal Observatory at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, monitors the coastline. By collecting data over time they can analyse how beaches and cliffs are responding to the effects of waves and tides.

Professor Andy Bradbury The stormy winter of 2013 - 14, culminating in a massive storm on Valentine's Day, caused significant damage to the New Forest coast. It also prompted Professor Bradbury to notice patterns of waves that he believed needed further research. He began a research project that would ultimately change the way that coastline is managed in future.

Much of the New Forest's coast is 'mixed shingle' or gravel beaches, which are made up of sand and pebbles and which act as important natural coastal defences, absorbing the impact of waves. As waves rush in to shore they lift and move the shingle, often depositing it some distance away. This causes the shape, or 'profile', of the beach to change. During storms, this effect increases, sometimes causing loss of the beach defence and erosion of the coastline. 

The 2013-14 storms caused damage all along the South coast. At Hurst Spit, the mile-long shingle bank which protects Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes, the sea rushed over the top of the spit in several places threatening the delicate habitat beyond. 

While overseeing repairs to the spit, Andy began researching the combination of strong winds mixed with a heavy swell from the Atlantic, known as a 'bimodal sea state', which he suspected had been responsible for the heavy damage to the shingle beaches.

Sadly, Professor Bradbury died in August 2014, in the middle of his research.  The project was taken on by his former colleagues at the Channel Coastal Observatory, where Andy had been founding director. The research was led by Travis Mason PhD, then Director of the Channel Coastal Observatory. 

Working with scientists from HR Wallingford, a hydraulics research institute in Oxfordshire, with funding from the Environment Agency, the team studied several shingle beaches and used a giant water tank to recreate different waves and study their impact on a scale-model of the beach. Now, their findings will inform future management of shingle beaches and coastal defences both across the UK and internationally. The data is also available to students, scientists and engineers carrying out further research.

Steve Cook, former colleague of Professor Bradbury and current lead of the coastal team, said:

"Andy was already recognised as one of the foremost experts on shingle beaches and this is a lasting legacy of his work. This new understanding of how shingle beaches respond to certain types of waves will directly influence the way we manage Hurst Spit and the rest of our coastline going forward. As part of the Hurst Beach Management Plan, we regularly move and add material to the shingle bank to make sure that Hurst Spit continues to function as an important flood and coastal defence. How much, where and how that material is distributed will be influenced by this invaluable research, something I believe Andy already knew when he started this work."

Updated: 3 Jul 2019
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