Crumbling coast fear means Norfolk's 'golf ball' radar must be moved

The 'golf ball' at Trimingham

The radar at Trimingham is to be moved - Credit: Mike Page

The distinctive 'golf ball' radar station on the north Norfolk coast will be relocated to a new inland site within the next year, because military chiefs fear it could fall into the sea.

Concerns over a potential cliff collapse at Trimingham means the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will be packing up the system there and moving it to a new home eight miles from the coast, at Neatishead, which was previously home to a major radar base.

Trimingham radar

The dome containing the radar at Trimingham - Credit: Archant

The move is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

The Trimingham site, run by the RAF, is a vital part of the UK's air defence system, giving advanced warning of any aerial threat approaching the UK.

Its significance has increased in recent months as tensions with Russia have risen, following its invasion of Ukraine.

But the radar - which has become a familiar regional landmark - is on one of the stretches of coast most vulnerable to erosion.

In 2020, a cliff collapse saw tonnes of sand and silt plummet on to the beach and sea from the Trimingham House Caravan Park - less than a mile away from  the station, which is known officially as Remote Radar Head Trimingham.

While the decision to remove the structure is primarily down to the threat of coastal erosion, military experts have also been concerned that the station faces increasing interference from the growing number of wind turbines off the Norfolk coast, which make it harder to identify potential threats.

An image from a drone of the cliff fall at Trimingham

An image from a drone of the cliff fall at Trimingham, taken on January 7, 2020. - Credit: BlueSky UAV Specialists

In 2017, the MoD warned that new turbines at Swedish firm Vattenfall's Boreas wind farm, off Norfolk, would have a 'significant and detrimental' impact on Remote Radar Head Trimingham.

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MoD operators use the radar to create what they call a 'recognised air picture' of aircraft movements so they can defend the country.

And they say the offshore turbines can "cause unacceptable and unmanageable interference to the effective operation of this air defence radar".

The MoD says the turbines create "clutter" on the operators' display.

Scroby windfarm

The MOD says mitigation is needed to stop wind farms interfering with radar - Credit: Mike Page

The move to Neatishead - where the MoD already owns land - will not solve this problem, as the radar will still be within the line of sight of the Boreas turbines.

Military experts have been trying to find ways to reduce the interference from the wind farm.

The Remote Radar base at Neatishead

The Remote Radar base at Neatishead will be the new home of the radar from Trimingham - Credit: Archant

In the past, defence chiefs have found ways to mitigate the adverse impact of turbines, by reaching agreements with developers.

Examples of mitigation include 'blanking' radar returns from turbines, so they do not show up on operators' screens, and providing extra radars to 'infill' missing information from those areas.

But experts say the next generation of wind farms will be larger, in both height and area, so previously used methods will not be enough.

The government, MoD and wind farm companies have been working to come up with solutions to that issue.

A series of 'real life' tests of different sorts of radar has been carried out, with various types of planes flying close to wind farm areas.

An MoD spokesperson said: "Wind farms support the UK’s clean energy ambition and we are committed to working across government and with industry to mitigate any impacts from air traffic control and defence radar."

Dujon Goncalves-Collins, Vattenfall's senior strategy advisor for aviation, defence and radar, said: "Vattenfall is working closely with the MoD to ensure that the new radar station at Neatishead will not be adversely affected by the operations of Norfolk Boreas.”

Vattenfall is also behind the Vanguard wind farm, while other major wind projects include Erinor's plans to double the size of the Sheringham Shoal and Dudgeon schemes. Danish firm Ørsted is also working on the Hornsea Three development.


NORFOLK'S RADAR ROLE

Trimingham radar station

Coastal erosion means the radar at Trimingham will be moved - Credit: Archant

A radar station was first established at Trimingham by the British Army in 1941 to detect German E-boats and low flying aircraft during the Second World War.

It was transferred to the Air Ministry in 1942, but stopped being used in 1948.

However, it was reactivated a year later and RAF Trimingham saw various radar installed in the subsequent years.

It was mothballed in 1964 and was then largely dismantled before closing in 1981.

But the Ministry of Defence then bought it back a few years later, and the 'golf ball' dome surrounding the radar equipment was installed.

Various radars - including one which used to be at a now closed military base in Hopton - have been housed there.

In 2006, an investigation was carried out after drivers reported their cars suffered electrical problems when passing the dome.

The MoD confirmed problems had been caused by its equipment.

The impending move to Neatishead gives fresh purpose to a site which operated as a radar centre during the Second World War.

In the 1960s the base was engulfed by tragedy when a fire was started at the site, which led to the death of three local firefighters.

The station remained closed for eight years and it reopened in 1974, after major rebuilding work.  

By 2006 it was downgraded to Remote Radar Head status, with the RAF having sold much of the site, which also includes a radar museum.