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Landscape Mysteries - Programme 4: Secrets of the Flood

Updated Monday, 24th October 2005

Britain is tilting and, as a result sea levels are falling in Scotland and rising in the south.

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Flood Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Between the south coast of England and the Isle of Wight lies the Solent, and here at low tide, objects – even Saxon sheep pens - are coming to light which suggest communities once lived in a lost landscape that is now covered by the sea. Aubrey sets out to discover how this area became flooded.

On the beach at Wootton Quarr, in the Isle of Wight, archaeologists find the further they go down the beach, the earlier the evidence of settlement they find. And out in the middle of the Solent ancient trees are being brought to the surface, along with flint tools. It’s clear that over the centuries, the whole area has slowly flooded.

Mud cores from the sea bottom reveal when the water first started coming in - some 8000 years ago when the ice was melting after the last glaciation. But why should the flooding have continued after that?

Aubrey travels to Scotland, where the sea-level has dropped relative to the land. But he learns it is not the sea that has gone down, but the land that has moved upwards. Scotland is actually rising, also the result of the melting ice thousands of years ago. The massive weight of ice had pushed Scotland downward, and when it melted the land began slowly to rise up again – and it is still rising. Antony Long from the Environment Research Centre explains the link with the Solent: Britain has effectively been tilting; as Scotland has risen up, the southern part of Britain has sunk down.

Aubrey concludes that the Isle of Wight was originally joined to the mainland and covered with forest, but the waters kept coming in, across thousands of years, because the land was sinking. The rising sea levels are still affecting the area. Within a few hundred years, the water will be lapping at some of today’s settlements along the coast.

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