Former soldier’s sleepless night as more of his garden falls into the sea

Sam Russell

A former soldier said he had a sleepless night as more of his garden fell into the sea on Easter Sunday, with his back door now no more than 20ft (6m) from the cliff edge.

Lance Martin, 63, hoped to see out his years at the property in Hemsby, Norfolk, which he bought in 2017 for £95,000.

He said he could stand on the roof and still not see the sea when he moved in, and was told by a survey to expect 3ft (1m) of dune loss per year to erosion.

But he said he lost almost 100ft (30m) of sand dune during the Beast from the East in 2018 and more went on Easter Sunday, with the drop becoming more sheer.

Hemsby cliff erosion – Norfolk
Former soldier Lance Martin stands in the garden of his home in Hemsby, Norfolk, where his back door is now no more than 20ft (6m) from the cliff edge (Joe Giddens/PA)

He estimates that he lost up to 20ft (6m) from the bottom of the dune and more than 6ft (2m) from the top, with his back door now no more than 20ft (6m) from the cliff edge.

“Because I could actually see what was going on it stressed me out a lot more,” he said.

“Normally I’m a sound sleeper but I think I got about 10 minutes’ sleep on that night.”

He went on: “The waves were huge – they were crashing down into the base of the dunes.

“I rushed across the road to my friend’s house and asked him to come and assist me to take the fence down and move the shed.

“It was dropping constantly that day.

“The waves nibble at the base of the dune and you don’t really see how far it’s cut in as you’re looking down on it, then all of a sudden part of the dune will just drop away.

“You don’t get any warning, no noise or anything.”

Hemsby cliff erosion – Norfolk
Lance Martin hopes to rearrange his 75 two-tonne concrete block sea defences to break the force of the waves (Joe Giddens/PA)

He has mounted a solar light on a piece of plastic pipe put into the top of the dune.

“I can sit on my sofa at night-time, look through the window and see that light shining,” he said.

“I know that if the light’s not shining the dune’s collapsed even more, and that’ll give me a warning that something’s going on.”

He said he may have to seek safety at a neighbour’s house if that happens.

Hemsby cliff erosion – Norfolk
Lance Martin said he had a sleepless night on Easter Sunday after more of his garden fell into the sea (Joe Giddens/PA)

There were originally 13 homes in his row, but his is now the only one left.

Mr Martin said the local lifeboat crew has offered to help him rearrange his 75 two-tonne concrete block sea defences, which are intended to break the force of the waves but have become buried by the sand.

He also wants to make the dune “terraced”, with a shallower angle to the beach, and appealed for any heavy plant operators with “spare time and spare machinery to come down and give us a hand”.

He said he has a “Plan Z, which I don’t really want to do”, which is to drag the entire property to a vacant plot across the road, further inland.

“I’ve kind of made a stand here that I intend to keep on going as long as physically and mentally possible,” he said.

Mr Martin served in the Army, in the Grenadier Guards, from 1978 to 2000 and moved to the coast after he retired from his security job in London and sold his flat in Dagenham, east London.