The UK has experienced two earthquakes in the last week - how common are they?

By Ethan Shone
Monday, 14th September 2020, 4:56 pm
Updated Monday, 14th September 2020, 4:56 pm
A town in Bedfordshire suffered two earthquakes in a week, but how common are they in Britain? (Image: Shutterstock)
A town in Bedfordshire suffered two earthquakes in a week, but how common are they in Britain? (Image: Shutterstock)

Residents of a town in Bedfordshire have been left shaken, after being hit by two earthquakes in the last week.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) confirmed several reports of a small earthquake late on Sunday night (13 Sep) in Leighton Buzzard, which measured in at 2.1 magnitude.

This comes less than a week after residents there reported their homes being “rattled” by a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, which was registered at 9:45am on 8 September.

Members of the public who reported the earthquake to the BGS described the feeling of the earthquake as like “a convoy of HGVs driving past at great speed” and “like a large explosion.”

Experts have suggested that the more recent activity might have been related to the previous earthquake.

Are earthquakes common in the UK?

Earthquakes are relatively common in the UK, with several happening most weeks, however the majority are so small that they aren’t felt by people.

More than 40 earthquakes were picked up by the BGS over the last 50 days, although the vast majority were under 1.5 magnitude, with many happening out at sea.

Most years, between 20 and 30 earthquakes which are significant enough to be felt by members of the public happen in-land. Most of these cause little to no damage, and are relatively insignificant compared with the earthquakes seen in other parts of the world.

What about dangerous earthquakes?

According to the BGS, a magnitude 4 earthquake - which would likely cause fairly insignificant damage - happens in the UK roughly every two years, whereas magnitude 5 earthquakes occur approximately once every 10 to 20 years.

In modern history the most significant earthquakes to hit the UK occurred in 1931, when a magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit 60 miles off the east coast and caused some property damage, and in 1884, when more than 1,000 buildings were damaged by a major earthquake near Colchester.

It is thought that the largest possible earthquake that could be experienced in the UK is around 6.5 magnitude.