LAST weekend's storms, which battered the south coast with winds of up to 80mph, are thought by some experts to be the result of global warming.

With climate change and rising sea levels predicted for this century, many southern coastlines are under threat of erosion - none more so than the Isle of Wight.

The complex geology of the landslip-prone Island provides an ideal place to study the effects of climate change on our coastline - and Ventnor's Coastal Visitors Centre is rapidly becoming an internationally recognised beacon of excellence in the field.

Since its opening in August 1998, the Coastal Centre has provided valuable information on the nature of the Island's 65 miles of coastline. Its dramatic cliff top location above Ventnor Bay provides an ideal vantage point for tourists and Islanders alike to grasp the spectacular beauty of the Isle of Wight coastline - and to recognise some of the challenges that will be faced by all coastal councils as they grapple with the effects of global warming.

In fact, the Island has always been prone to erosion. Up until 6,500 years ago, the area now known as the Solent was a valley floor before meltwaters from the last Ice Age at last severed the Island from the mainland.

The process of erosion continues today - particularly in south west Wight where a combination of fierce storms and heavy rainfall have eaten away at the coastline.

The Undercliff itself has been subjected to continuous erosion.

The latest landslip which closed Undercliff Drive 18 months ago forced the building of a new road - but it is not a new phenonema. In 1928 - a massive cliff fall which dwarfed the most recent landslide destroyed the route of the old road.

But the Island's coastline is for many the main reason for visiting the area. It is a key part of the Island's appeal for tourists and forms an important aspect of Islanders "sense of place".

The Coastal Visitors Centre provides an opportunity for students and tourists alike to learn about the numerous issues affecting the coastline today. From its formation in geological time to the conflicts and impacts which all stake a claim on the coast.

The centre portrays the coast as a dynamic, ever-changing landscape which creates a wealth and diversity of plant, animal and marine life, exposes geological beds and fossils within them and reveals the Island's story.

The centre attracts huge numbers of college and university students from the mainland as well as the Island.

There is also workspace for students and a technical library with books, reports and journals on issues relating to coastal management.

Overseeing the centre is manager Michelle Francis. She said: "From our point of view, the centre provides an area for people who have an intrest in the coastline. It is the perfect place to study a different number of habitats."

She added: "We are getting kids coming along from the centre of the Island. It is surprising how infrequently some of them actually go to the coast."

Not only is the centre a valuable place for schoolchildren and tourists. It is also becoming an internationally-recognised area for the study of coastal erosion.


More than 90 per cent of the Island's coastline is designated for its unspoilt character and nature conservation interest

The Island's coastline is 65 miles (110 kilometres) long

Two and a half million visitors are drawn to the Island each year, many attracted by the sandy beaches and unspoilt coastline. At the height of the season - the Island's population nearly doubles

The Undercliff is a belt of fallen ground extending for six miles from east to west and one quarter of a mile in width. It forms the largest urban landslide in north-west Europe

The Coastal Centre was opened in 1998 to assist with the regeneration of Ventnor which is located in the Undercliff

The building that houses the centre has been over the years, a rest home for tuberculosis patients, a hotel, and Ventnor college before the council opened the centre.