Coastal erosion: Single mother-of-two fears she will be forced to leave cliff-top home by Christmas

Nicola Bayless’s three-bed semi in Norfolk is now less than 15 metres from the cliff-edge.

Nicola Bayless, 48, outside her home in Happisburgh, Norfolk. (SWNS)
Nicola Bayless, 48, outside her home in Happisburgh, Norfolk.

A widowed mother-of-two fears her family will be forced to leave their cliff-top home by Christmas after eight metres of land was swept away in just a month due to coastal erosion.

Nicola Bayless's three-bed semi in Happisburgh is now less than 15 metres from the cliff after storms Babet and Ciaran ravaged the Norfolk coast in the autumn.

She worries her family's £375,000 property may become uninhabitable by the end of this month as the village teeters on the edge.

Bayless, 48, said: "We haven't even got into winter, but as we've lost that much, we could be forced to leave in springtime or even before Christmas. It's frightening."

Her late parents, Anita and Arthur Richmond, bought Beacon House in 2001 for £76,000 when it was over 200 metres away from the cliff's edge.

Aerial view of Happisburgh in February 2023. (SWNS)
Aerial view of Happisburgh in February 2023.

They knew the property, which sat among homes on Beach Road, wouldn’t be around forever as the government had decided not to upgrade local sea defences.

But in the 22 years since, the sea has carved out huge swaths of the "cream cheese"-like coastline, forcing dozens of locals to abandon their properties.

Bayless, who moved into the property seven years ago, now fears her home could become uninhabitable soon.

More Eastern England stories - click above
More Eastern England stories - click above

The nurse said: "It's heartbreaking and it's frightening if you let it take over your mind, it can get you down mentally."

She added: "After Babet, four metres was gone. Then it was another two metres after Ciaran. But more has gone since then. So you're talking, in a month, seven to eight metres.

"We used to have Christmas light competitions with our neighbours – how many lights you could get on your home. It looked like Las Vegas at the bottom of the road.

"It makes you sad that village life is disappearing as well."

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Bayless said her parents gave her the home in 2016 when she started a family, while they moved into her nearby terraced home and later to a bungalow.

They had believed the property, which has a 50 metre-long back garden and an annexe, would later be passed onto their grandchildren.

But Bayless said her parents would be shocked if they could see the devastating loss of land that has taken place in the five years since their deaths.

Recent storms Babet and Ciaran, which hit in quick succession between 18 October and 4 November, brought some of the worst landslips in recent memory.

Bayless said: "It's just like cream cheese here really, it just seems to disappear because it's just clay and soil, there are no rocks. It just feels like it is being carved away."

Nicola Bayless pictured where the land has now been lost to coastal erosion. (SWNS)
Bayliss said seven to eight metres of coastline has been eroded in a single month.

She said her local council told her that she was now their "first priority" to be relocated after storms took away even more of the coastline last weekend.

But she's aware that the money she could be given for the move will be nowhere near the property's true value if it was situated on firmer ground.

Bayless said it was tough to leave the home as it was the place where her late husband Steve passed away at the age of 42 after suffering heart failure.

Rob Goodliffe, a coastal transition manager from North Norfolk District Council, said his team was working with her to find "solutions" and offer support.

Nicola Bayless outside her home. (SWNS)
Bayless and her children are now waiting to be rehoused by the local council.

'Erosion hotspots'

At the beginning of 2023, 21 "erosion hotspots" were identified across the English coast.

The at-risk areas include seaside villages in Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, East Yorkshire, Essex, Kent, the Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Norfolk and Sussex.

The list of villages and hamlets at risk was compiled by climate action group One Home.

It said 2,218 homes were in danger, with an estimated total worth of £584m.

The UK government had committed to protecting 336,000 more properties as part of a six-year flood and coastal erosion programme from 2021 to 2027.

But a report published earlier this month showed the Environment Agency (EA) had reduced its forecast to 200,000 properties, identifying inflation as a major reason.

The report also revealed EA had removed 500 of the 2,000 new flood defence projects that were originally included in the government’s programme.

It comes despite the government doubled capital funding to £5.2bn for the programme.

Meanwhile, 203,000 properties already protected from flooding are also facing an increased risk because of a £34m shortfall in EA’s maintenance funding for existing flood defence assets for 2022 to 2023, the report said.