Climate changes impact on Rye

Water creeps over the grass at the River Haven Hotel and towards the flood gates on Strand Quay

Anthony Kimber reports in a three part series on climate change – what is happening (or not) internationally, and locally, and what individuals can do – as sea levels rise, Rye faces growing problems, and 1,200 plus buildings are already at risk from tidal surges.

Part One: The International Scene

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations’ (UN’s) body for assessing the science related to climate change. In December 2019 it stated that: “Climate change is happening—the world is already 1.1°C warmer than it was at the onset of the industrial revolution, and it is having a significant impact on the world, and on people’s lives.

If current trends persist, then global temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2° to 3.9°C this century (by 2100), which would bring wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts.” This statement follows an assessment in September about how and why the climate is changing, with projections for how rainfall to Arctic sea ice is likely to change in the coming decades.

Scientists expect a warming world to lead to more extreme rainfall because the high-level air streams are able to carry (and dump) more water. The IPCC reports that the UK is set to see about a 10 per cent rise in annual average rainfall by 2100 compared to the period 1985-2005. Europe and the UK are “very likely” to see more heavy rainfall events by the end of the century. Increased rain falling in a short space of time raises flood risk.

Climate change consequences are already visible around the world: ice cap melt, rising sea levels, droughts and extreme weather events. In the UK winter temperatures have reached above 20°C. Extreme weather events (around 100mm of rainfall in some 24 hour periods) cause surface water, high ground water levels and aggravate any tidal flooding. The UK’s Meteorological Office and Environment Agency report that heavier rainfall plus sea level rise, with the potential for storm (tidal) surges will put pressure on tidal water defences.

The recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25, December 2-13 2019 in Madrid; chaired by Chile) was intended to take the next crucial steps in the UN’s handling of the climate change process by turning the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement into action.

However, after some two weeks of debate, at the end, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “I am disappointed with the results of COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis. But we must not give up, and I will not give up. I am more determined than ever to work for 2020 to be the year in which all countries commit to do what science tells us is necessary to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and a no more than 1.5 degree temperature rise.”

Chile’s COP 25 chair said “We are not satisfied, the agreements reached by the parties are not enough. Governments have failed to respond to the emergency of the climate crisis as the talks fell victim to major differences between countries that are proving hard to resolve”.

Therefore at the highest levels, action is not matching concern by activists across the globe. Many other global organisations share the concern. For instance, the World Health Organisation says that” Climate change is impacting human lives and health in a variety of ways. It threatens the essential ingredients of good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, and safe shelter – and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health.

Between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. The direct damage to health, mostly in developing countries, will result because populations there are least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

Image Credits: Anthony Kimber .


  1. Why do you insist on publishing a photo of the tide topping the Strand Quay, I have lived in Rye and the surrounding area for 68 years and spring tides have been doing that ever since I can remember.
    I’m fully aware that someone is going to give me a good reason why a 4.2mtr tide is different now to a 4.2mtr tide back in the 50’s.

    • Tony, there is, of course, no difference between 4.2m 70 years ago and today. However last Saturday’s tide was 5.0m and on Monday night, Feb 10/11, 5.6.(Both levels measured at Rye Harbour).That the water levels at Strand Quay appeared to be less than this was due to a strong SW wind in the opposite direction of the tide, holding back water in the English Channel from the North Sea. Had the wind been coming from the North or East, there could have been a surge and the result could have been very different. We now have slowly rising sea levels and increasingly frequent occasions of uncertain weather. The result of this is that, at some point we are going to have an abnormally high tide (probably around an equinox, that usually sees the highest tides of the year), combined with a storm behind the tide and the result will be far more serious flooding than we have seen on any occasion to date. This is not doom-mongering and it may not happen for quite some time, but it will happen at some point. There is a good reason why our forebears built Rye on top of a hill! The picture of a flooded Quay is simply designed to draw attention to the subject matter of the article. Editor, Rye News

  2. One must agree with Tony Edwards,have we been flooded in Rye except for a bit of ponding at strand quay, which the environment agency seem reluctant to adress, along with the delay of the eastern wall,which was promised in 2019,to protect the residents of kings avenue,and new road.looking at other places on the national news,Rye seems better protected than most places.

  3. I’m a bit confused as to how a 5.6 mtr tide at Rye Harbour didn’t make it to the Strand Quay, in my limited experience of how tides work I thought that whatever Rye Harbour got Rye also got but will bend to your greater knowledge.
    Also if a 5 mtr tide topped the Strand this year then surely it must have been a 5 mtr tide back in the 50’s?

    As an aside, is it one of the reasons why I have to pay such an astronomical amount of council tax to live on the Strand.

    • Can’t answer the council tax question, Tony, but I can help you on tide heights. The answer is quite literally blowing in the wind. Last weekend (Feb 8/9) storm Ciara produced very strong winds from the SW. The water causing the high tide was coming into our part of the Channel from the NE. Because the wind was so strong, it had the effect of holding the water back to some extent so that the tides were not quite as high as the tide tables predicted. A side effect though was that it made the seas extremely rough. If the wind had been the same strength but from the N or NE, then it could possibly have helped to create a tidal surge so that the resulting high tide could have been much higher than tide table predictions. This was what happened in the tragic events of 1953 and to a much lesser extent in 2013. The tide at Rye Harbour will be the same height (roughly – there will be a small difference) as the tide at Strand Quay. As an afterthought, we do, of course, have vastly improved sea defences today compared with the 1950’s.


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