Sea defence

Can ‘Sea defence’ at Royal North Devon be successful?


There has been much reporting in the golf press recently of stories of the effect of ‘climate change’ on golf courses, stimulated by a report from the ‘Climate coalition’ a grouping of organisations wanting to alarm us that man-made ’anthropogenic’ global warming (AGW) is going to have catastrophic effects for mankind and in particular result in the drowning of coastal golf courses under a metre of sea-level-rise by 2100.

It is worth being reminded, well before AGW and Natural England (an un-elected environmentalist Quango) were invented, of the extensive flooding of Royal Cinque Ports by storms in 1938 and 1949 that lost the Club the opportunity of hosting The Open Championship planned for both years. Eventually in 1979 proper sea defences were built and the course and the town of Deal are no longer under threat of flooding, when there are storms from the east.

This winter both Montrose and Royal North Devon (RND) suffered the loss of tees to storms, which has been central to the recent alarmist reporting but before we talk about the serious threat to RND not from climate change sea-level-rise but from Natural England, let us explain some of the background context.

I should firstly say that I have gained some wider knowledge of this ‘climate change’ subject as over the last six years I have been intimately involved in leading and winning a battle against the erection of subsidised wind turbines near our conservation village. This fight was conducted around the Government’s disastrous energy policy as well as Nimby interests.

Eventually a called-in five-day Public Inquiry resulted in the Secretary of State comprehensively dismissing the subsidy speculator’s appeal, based on the ruination of heritage assets and landscape and local community rejection grounds. See for info.

Secondly, FineGolf does not wish to engage in party politics and like most people it considers there has always been and will always be climate change.

Thirdly, we should remind ourselves that ‘Running-Golf’ is strongly conservationist and that FineGolf supports true sustainability (low inputs, lower costs) and questions why GEO ignores the fine/weed grass issue.

We also feel it is our duty to mention certain facts that one is aware of, and thereby hope to provide a more balanced reporting in the golf press.

In FineGolf’s recent Peterhead review it was noted that in the early 1960s the Club had to abandon, three holes and its clubhouse due to sea erosion, again well before AGW was invented and indeed at a time when global cooling was the focus of environmentalist alarm.

At the heart of the Climate Coalition’s report are the alarmist sentiments from Leeds University academics suggesting: Without cutting our CO2 emissions which they say are driving climate change, sea levels could rise a metre by 2100.

FineGolf  believes that some objectivity should be displayed by referring to the work of the world’s foremost experienced scientist on sea-level-rise.  SEE HERE a recent interview published in February 2018.

A relevant quote from the interview with Nils-Axel Mörner worth citing here is: “The doomsday scenarios usually refer to the year 2100. I estimate that the sea level will by then rise by five centimetres on average, with an uncertainty of 15 centimetres. The change might go from plus 20 centimetres to minus 10 centimetres. This is not a threat. Anyone who claims that there will be a threat of an increase of one metre or so has no idea of ​​physics.”

B and B’s Channel course on land reclaimed from the naturally receding sea

It is clear that, where necessary, seaside golf clubs should take action against erosion from storms at high tide, just as Royal West Norfolk and Royal Dornoch relatively recently have done by installing rock armour. However, it is equally important to record that Burnham and Berrow and Rye have both enjoyed the construction of excellent new nine-hole courses on land reclaimed from the naturally receding sea.

Another issue that could affect Britain’s relationship with the sea for our links-style, running-golf courses is the geological tilting that has occurred gradually since the last ice age of 20,000 years ago, but this tilting has nothing to do with AGW. A research report in 2009 suggested Scotland might rise by as much as 10cms while south England drop by 5cms over the next century.

Following a series of embarrassingly incorrect seasonal forecasts (remember the drenching of the ‘barbecue summer’?) which the Met. Office have now stopped, it instead now gives each storm a name, which influences the public’s perception of ‘weather’ events as being worse and more frequent than normal. This in turn helps to confuse ‘weather’ and ‘climate change’ in the public’s mind.

Global temperatures showing non-AGW El Nino peaks in 1998 and 2016. Cooling trend 1950-75, heating trend 1975-98, pause 1998-2018.

‘Climate change’ in the 1990s was called ‘global warming’ before a pause occurred in the increase in warming during the period 1998-to now). The alarmists’ computer-modelled theories did not predict this pause but rather a continued warming, increasing in-line with man-made carbon dioxide emissions that have indeed continued to rise steadily, as predominantly and understandably (and accepted within the non-legally binding Paris Accord) China and India demanded the right to use affordable and secure energy, such as coal-fired power stations to create electricity, in order to reduce poverty and pollution from unhealthy domestic wood-burning.

The alarmist AGW theories ignore any dampening effects on warming by sun spot and cosmic ray activity and this theory is explained by Nir Shaviv in a recent GWPF  YouTube video.

Some well-intentioned greenkeepers and golf administrators have been quoted talking about the anecdotal effects as they see it, of ‘extreme weather events’, that then become labelled as man-made ‘climate change’ the new words for ‘global warming’ now there has been a pause in the increase in warming.

Nevertheless, an editorial in Nature pronounced that “better models are needed before exceptional events can be reliably linked to global warming” and even the IPCC, a body set up within the UN by the alarmists to advise governments and which also organised the Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris Accords, concluded that there was ‘high agreement’ that ‘long term trends’ in extreme weather events could not be attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change (AGW).  Some scientists have been trying since 2008 to prove attribution but without success. SEE HERE recent article on this. There has been no significant increase in the world’s extreme weather events while less damage and deaths have occured, for example from the American hurricanes in recent years, that have also been fewer in number. An appropriate policy of adaption to weather events is key.

Let’s be honest, the most difficult part of a greenkeeper’s job in the British Isles is to cope with the ever changing weather and it has always been thus.



Norbert Lischka’s Logo emphasising the need for respect between golfer and greenkeeper

One of the advantages of new technology, via weather apps, is for greenkeepers to be able to plan their day better as does Rhys Butler at Royal St David’s  as reported in BIGGA’s (The leading greenkeepers body) new excellent magazine ‘ Your Course’ initiative to encourage better communication and respect between greenkeepers and golfers.

There really is not a lot to be gained by whining about the vagaries of the weather. (The 1938  Open Championship at Royal St George’s was blown over but somehow was finished with players receiving penalties on the greens as their ball moved. The authorities now seem too scared of the players and stop the tournament when they complain that it blows a bit!).

RND’s Clubhouse, containing a fine golf museum, with some of the famous reeds

RND, often called Westward Ho! (read HERE the FineGolf review) has the oldest golf course in England. It is built on linksland behind a pebble beach that was deposited there some 400 years ago from the bottom of cliffs further west, during a mighty storm.

This club, founded in 1864 has managed the course on common land, called Northam Burrows, so well that when Natural England was formed they awarded it SSSI status in 1988 and of course that also gave them influence over it.

Between 1940 and 1995 part of Northam Burrows was used as a land-fill site licensed for chemicals, asbestos and hospital waste, all this situated on the edge of the Taw and Torridge estuary. Everybody agrees that this land-fill, near the eighth green and ninth fairway, must be defended from the sea, and one would have thought that this would help save this famous course.

Course map. Click to enlarge.

Natural England, say they have no responsibility for managing the coast, it is the decision of the local council (who are in this instance also the majority owner); but as a statutory consultee nothing can happen legally without Natural England’s permission!

The local council understands the historical value of this course to the golfing world and the number of visitors it brings to the area, and they have been very supportive to the Club in their efforts to defend against the erosion.

Nevertheless, in the past, so I am told, when seeking to do small scale sea defence works the Club have been told to seek permission from Natural England, a permission that has only been granted on two occasions, and when the local council requested to carry out sea defence work this has on some occasions been refused. This is not surprising because these few permissions happen against a background that:

Natural England has an active national policy of wanting to allow land to be flooded by the sea.


RND’s lost 8th tee. See the concrete white tee furniture sitting on the beach.

This poses the question as to why is it that they pursue a policy against local interests? Is it because of their belief in AGW makes them think sea-level-rise is inevitable, thereby justifying the encouragement of flooding the land.  If this is the case their judgement has been clouded as it is adaption to change that is needed?

It is a similar policy direction that allowed the water escapes on the Somerset Levels to silt-up and the pumps to become un-useable a few years ago that created the situation that rather than ‘saving the planet’ devastated the habitat of thousands of birds and wildlife and the economics and life of the area, before Owen Patison MP, as Defra Secretary of State, stepped in and allowed a reversion to the historic management of the area.

Following this winter’s storm that washed away the RND eighth hole’s back tee, it is considered that the 7th and 8th holes are in danger and in the longer term the 6th may also be threatened.

Waves breaking onto RND’s 8th hole

The Club wants to build two new greens and operate with twenty greens until such a time as the old greens either fall into the sea or become un-manageable. New greens are proposed for the 7th and 8th, and though they don’t think the 8th green will be lost, it is feared that due to the sea defences failing behind the 7th green, the 8th might be flooded with salt water on a regular basis so the hole needs to be moved.

This situation entails the use of just an extra 1200 sq. metres of land within the SSSI’s total area of 250 hectares.

Since 2013 the course has lost some four hectares of sand dunes to the sea which Natural England has refused to allow to be defended.


RND’s present 7th green

They now say that the Club must use the new greens and return to only eighteen greens within three years after construction, rather than on a timescale of the Club’s choosing.

This sounds to FineGolf as though these ideologically motivated environmentalists, knowing they legally have the upper hand, are making it as difficult as possible for this historic, famous, well managed golf club to defend playability for its members and visitors.

Alan Law, Natural England’s ‘chief strategist and reform officer’, talks on their website of putting people at the very heart of Natural England’s thinking but one wonders when the bureaucrats will start to relate to the real needs of local people and put their ideological beliefs out to grass.

In these circumstances, the national golf press can do its bit by not mixing the local issues up with man-made ‘climate change’ (AGW) alarm but rather support changes to the government’s environment policy so that our renowned golfing heritage is defended for the good of the nation’s tourism and our sporting enjoyment and help these, and similar, golf clubs adapt to our ever-changing weather.