Landslides Raise Fears for Britain's Cliffs of Dover

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During the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnel system was greatly expanded to fortify the castle in readiness for a French invasion. Eventually accommodating up to 2,000 soldiers, it was "the only underground barracks ever built in Britain," according to English Heritage, the official custodian of the English historic environment.

Popular Destination

The rich history and wild beauty of the Dover cliffs has made them a popular destination for hikers and travelers. Several million are believed to visit the White Cliffs of Dover and the Seven Sisters in Brighton each year. "The walk along the cliffs, only 60 minutes from London, is very emotive and a truly marvelous experience, with the rolling chalk down land harboring numerous species of flowers, insects, and birds," said Judd.

"The scene is ever changing," he added, "with the colors of the sea varying from iridescent blues through greens and on to milky white where the dissolving chalk from rock falls stains the sea."

Wildlife will benefit from the latest massive cliff falls, according to Judd. "The landslides have opened up vast new nesting sites for sea birds returning annually to formerly overcrowded ledges on the cliff face," he said.

"Birds nesting on the cliffs include large colonies of kittiwake and increasing numbers of peregrine falcons, which were exterminated during World War II as they kept eating carrier pigeons released by secret agents from occupied France," he explained.

Although the risks for visitors are considered minimal, hikers and others are usually advised to remain at least five meters (five yards) back from the cliff edge, said Judd, who noted that visitors are more likely to be blown off the cliffs than to fall off the cliffs. Nonetheless, as an increased safety precaution during periods when rock falls are occurring more regularly, visitors are advised to stay farther back, at least 15 meters (15 yards) from the edge.

(c) 2001 National Geographic Society

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