Last days of Spurn Head

18th November 1994 at 00:00
Kevin Berry says there's no better place to study coastal erosion and beach life, but hurry before it surrenders to the sea. In all probability, any young people visiting Spurn Head over the next few years will not be able to take their own children back for a nostalgic trip - because by then it will have vanished or it will have changed beyond recognition.

Spurn Head is that long, curling peninsula on the Yorkshire Coast at the mouth of the River Humber. The North Sea has threatened to break through for many years, sea defences have been built periodically over the past 200 years but a recent Hull University report has concluded that Spurn Head should be left to the mercy of the waves. A breakthrough is now inevitable with parts of the peninsula being left to form an island or series of islands.

So why on earth should a teacher bother going there? The answer is that, for many different reasons, Spurn is a unique and endlessly fascinating area.

There can be no better place to study coastal erosion as it seems almost to move with every tide. There have been five recorded peninsulas at Spurn with a regular 250 year cycle of breach followed by growth. The flora is of international importance and Spurn is a major European site for observing migrating birds. All of the three-and-a-half-mile long peninsula is a nature reserve administered by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Almost at the very tip of Spurn there is a disused lighthouse, built late in the last century, a jetty for lifeboat men and river pilots and cottages for their families. The lifeboat is permanently in the water, its crew being the only full-time lifeboat men in the county, and the river pilots handle more than 30,000 vessels each year, guiding them up river to Hull, Goole and Immingham.

Remnants of military installations are scattered along the seaward side, a fort from the Great War and smaller structures from the Second World War. There was a thriving community at Spurn during the last century and a railway ran the length of the peninsula. Parts of the railway track can still be seen.

The sea defences are breathtaking and what has happened to them is quite awesome. Groynes have been worn away to fragile stumps and huge wooden walls have been smashed like match sticks. Stone walls built seemingly with a craftsman's care have been broken as if hit with a giant's fist. The most recent attempts to keep the sea back are huge slabs of rock dumped in a gully. Yes, they do look formidable, but so do crashing waves.

Spurn is a landscape of beaches, sand dunes and acres of mud flats to the west. The beaches contain stones and fossils washed sown from boulder clay deposits far off to the north, tiny and delicate species of plants are found in the dunes and the mud flats provide abundant food for wading birds. Many plants and birds are unique to the peninsula. Spurn is a mecca for bird watchers, its shape acts as a sort of funnel for convoys of tens of thousands of migrating birds and it is a home for birds staying over winter. Little Terns, considered a great rarity elsewhere, have been seen nesting on the open beach.

Spurn has a glorious wild beauty. It is a wonderful place to explore and there is so much that is rare and unusual. Given its apparently fragile future, memories of visits there should last a lifetime.

Facilities for school visits at Spurn are rudimentary. There is no shelter and toilet facilities are chemical and strictly one at a time. On the credit side the staff of the Heritage Coast Project and the Spurn Warden will spend time with school groups if informed well in advance.

o For further details telephone Spurn Coast Project on 0964 4650139 or write to The Spurn Warden, Spurn Nature Reserve, Kilnsea, Hull, North Humberside HU12 0UG.

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