Under this alarming heading, “The Disappearance of England,” the Gaulois recently published an article by M. Guy Dorval on the erosion of the English coasts. The writer refers to the predictions of certain British men of science that England will one day disappear altogether beneath the waves, and imagines that we British folk are seized by a popular panic. Our neighbours are trembling for the fate of the entente cordiale, which would speedily vanish with vanishing England; but they have been assured by some of their savants that the rate of erosion is only one kilometre in a thousand years, and that the danger of total extinction is somewhat remote. Professor Stanislas Meunier, however, declares that our “panic” is based on scientific facts. He tells us that the cliffs of Brighton are now one kilometre farther away from the French coast than in the days of Queen Elizabeth, and that those of Kent are six kilometres farther away than in the Roman period. He compares our island to a large piece of sugar in water, but we may rest assured that before we disappear beneath the waves the period which must elapse would be greater than the longest civilizations known in history. So we may hope to be able to sing “Rule Britannia” for many a long year.
Coast erosion is, however, a serious problem, and has caused the destruction of many a fair town and noble forest that now lie beneath the seas, and the crumbling cliffs on our eastern shore threaten to destroy many a village church and smiling pasture. Fishermen tell you that when storms rage and the waves swell they have heard the bells chiming in the towers long covered by the seas, and nigh the picturesque village of Bosham we were told of a stretch of sea that was called the Park. This as late as the days of Henry VIII was a favourite royal hunting forest, wherein stags and fawns and does disported themselves; now fish are the only prey that can be slain therein.
The Royal Commission on coast erosion relieves our minds somewhat by assuring us that although the sea gains upon the land in many places, the land gains upon the sea in others, and that the loss and gain are more or less balanced. As a matter of area this is true. Most of the land that has been rescued from the pitiless sea is below high-water mark, and is protected by artificial banks. This work of reclaiming land can, of course, only be accomplished in sheltered places, for example, in the great flat bordering the Wash, which flat is formed by the deposit of the rivers of the Fenland, and the seaward face of this region is gradually being pushed forward by the careful processes of enclosure. You can see the various old sea walls which have been constructed from Roman times onward. Some accretions of land have occurred where the sea piles up masses of shingle, unless foolish people cart away the shingle in such quantities that the waves again assert themselves. Sometimes sand silts up as at Southport in Lancashire, where there is the second longest pier in England, a mile in length, from the end of which it is said that on a clear day with a powerful telescope you may perchance see the sea, that a distinguished traveller accustomed to the deserts of Sahara once found it, and that the name Southport is altogether a misnomer, as it is in the north and there is no port at all.