Photo gallery: Ill winds have stripped away beaches at Cromer, Sheringham, Mundesley, Mundesley, Happisburgh and Sea Palling.
- Credit: Archant
Relentless easterly winds have been blamed for snatching away large stretches of north Norfolk's sandy beaches.
The unusual winter weather has scoured away the sands, exposing some bald chalk and leaving beach steps hanging in mid air.
At Sea Palling the Environment Agency had to be called in to remove large rocks which had become exposed by the beach's disappearance, making it potentially dangerous for the lifeboat and fishing boats.
And loss of beach at Cromer since last summer has sparked a call for the sands to be recharged to protect the resort's vital tourism industry.
Coastal engineer Brian Farrow said he had never seen some of the beaches so badly scoured in the 33 years he had worked for North Norfolk District Council (NNDC).
He blamed the almost constant easterly winds which battered the coast from Christmas until about a fortnight ago, building up big waves that had stripped the sand from beaches including those at Sea Palling, Happisburgh, Mundesley, Overstrand, Cromer and Sheringham, and pushing it westwards.
Mr Farrow said the beach at Sheringham had been scoured deep enough to reveal some chalk, adding: 'I have never in all my days seen that.'
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On the same beaches, steps down from the promenade were stopping one metre away from the beach below because the sand had been washed away.
Normally, the prevailing winds were from the north-west, which pushed the beaches along from east to west, according to Mr Farrow. But this winter the easterlies and north-easterlies had created choppy waters, scouring away the beaches.'
Unlike the turquoise and tranquil Mediterranean, the North Sea was a 'high-energy sea', which carried sediment about in it.
North Norfolk's lost beaches were somewhere off-shore, contributing to the water's typical brown colour, and would be washed back ashore with the recent return of a more normal weather pattern, with winds which blew from the land.
Mr Farrow said he was confident the sand would return by the summer, adding: 'It always does. But I've not seen the beaches this low before.'
He also believed that the situation would not affect tourism, saying: 'Not all the beaches are badly affected. People will just walk along to where there is sand.'
Cromer town councillor Scott Eastwood asked NNDC to consider 're-nourishing' the town's beach to help the tourism industry. He said beach levels had dropped 1.6m since August and the beach was no longer sandy and golden, but flint.
'We are not the gem of the Norfolk coast, we are the flint of the Norfolk coast,' said Mr Eastwood.
But Mr Farrow said the government would not pay to recharge the beach. A storm could see the loss of £2m worth of sand in one night.
The present situation was not 'bad' just 'unusual.' Advantages included possible new finds for archaeologists along the fossil-rich shoreline. Visitors might also be attracted specifically because the lack of sand had uncovered sights usually hidden from view. These included timber piles west of Cromer Pier which he believed had belonged to a jetty in the 1700s or 1800s.
And Mr Farrow said it had also given him a rare opportunity to examine the foundations of coastal defences.
But the fierce easterlies had speeded up erosion of exposed cliffs.
Mick Clarke, coxswain of Sea Palling lifeboat, said they had contacted the Environment Agency about removing three large rocks which had become exposed with the loss of beach there.
The agency had removed them on Good Friday as they had interfered with both the launch of the lifeboat and fishing boats.
There had been particular concerns about possible injury to crew in the water helping recover the lifeboat