Due to its location, Tintagel is exposed to the relentless natural forces of coastal erosion. Over the years this process has shaped Tintagel into the site we know today. Erosion is usually incredibly slow but every so often major changes can occur. For example, during the 16th Century the land bridge at Tintagel collapsed into the sea, leaving part of the castle marooned on a peninsula. In time the sea will reclaim the rest of the castle remains.
The process of erosion that will eventually destroy the cliffs of Tintagel is part of a cycle that would originally have created them. Rocks are eroded to form sediment: sediment is hardened into rock; rock is elevated above sea level by movements of the Earth, transformed by tectonics; and thus raised again above the sea, once more to be subjected to an assault from the elements, starting the cycle over again.
Tintagel is not only a site of archaeological significance: the cliffs here make up part of an environmentally important plant habitat. There is little we can do to stop the forces of erosion eventually taking away this resource. Coastal defence schemes can protect some areas but often only serve to divert erosive stresses elsewhere. If they were used to protect Tintagel they could ruin the qualities that make the area so special: spoiling the rugged natural beauty of the site, or altering the ecology of the habitat it provides so that the present diversity of flora is no longer sustainable.
Fortunately Tintagel should survive for hundreds of years yet, but if predictions of global warming turn out to be true then we could be helping to reduce its life expectancy. If climate change leads to rises in sea level then we will increase the erosive effect of the sea by exposing new areas of land to its harsh treatment. It will also cause mobilisation of previously stable deposits of sediment, which will increase the rate of erosion.
© Jim Johnson 2001