Long considered to be the likely birthplace and conception of the mythical King Arthur, Tintagel Castle is one of Cornwall’s greatest historical landmarks. English Heritage, who maintain the castle, has given a stark warning that Tintagel Castle is at serious risk of falling into the sea.
Managing well over 400 historical sites across the UK including Stonehenge, Dover Castle, and Hadrian’s Wall, English Heritage has seen rising sea levels and coastal erosion damage and threaten many of its sites in the past few years. Just last year Hurst Castle in Hampshire lost its entire 18th Century east wing to the sea.
Already, cliff falls have removed much of the land surrounding Tintagel Castle, and there are fears that parts of the castle itself could soon fall victim to the same cliff falls and coastal erosion.
Although some level of coastal erosion is normal in Britain, the director of estates for English Heritage, Rob Woodside, explains how “Erosion along England’s coastline is nothing new but the rate of land loss that we have seen over the past few years is alarming, and some scenarios indicate that sea levels could increase by up to a metre by the end of the century.”
Indeed, the Met Office has reported that sea levels have risen by around 16.5cm (6.5 ins) since 1900, and the rate of increase is rising rapidly. Sea levels are now rising at 3-5.2mm a year, more than double the rate during the early 1900s, almost certainly linked to increased human activity causing climate change.
As Mr Woodside has stated: “Climate change is accelerating the issues faced by our coastal heritage and creating huge challenges for organisations like English Heritage seeking to protect it.” Of course, it is not just historical sites that are at risk – with the BBC reporting that around 500,000 homes are now at risk of flooding due to rising sea levels.
Although the earliest mention of King Arthur would be in the 9th Century in the Historia Brittonum, it would be the 12th Century Chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth to describe Tintagel as the birthplace of King Arthur.
Inspired by this myth, Richard the Earl of Cornwall began building a castle there in the 1230s, adding to the Roman foundations. Although Tintagel began losing parts of its structure to the sea as early as the 14th Century, English Heritage has warned that rapid future increases in sea levels could cause irreparable damage.
To combat this new threat to the UK’s historical sites, English Heritage has launched a multi-million-pound fundraising appeal, along with highlighting the six coastal castles most at risk of damage from rising sea levels. It is estimated that around £40,000 is needed just to repair damage from the previous year’s storms at Tintagel.
In their plea for aid, Mr Woodside outlined that: “If these coastal properties are to survive the coming decades, we will need to strengthen their walls and build sea defences to protect them.” As climate change shows no signs of slowing or reversing, the focus of charities such as English Heritage will turn to protecting historical sites from falling to the sea.