March 7 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
One of the most important grazing marshes for wading birds on the Suffolk coast is likely to have been changed “irretrievably” by the worst storm surge in living memory.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) believes the December floods have caused irreparable damage to the sea defences which protect Hazlewood Marshes near Aldeburgh and will eventually transform the site into an intertidal wetland.
Although the marshes are currently described as a “valuable wildlife habitat” for species such as redshank, snipe and lapwing, SWT’s head of conservation Dorothy Casey, remains positive about the change.
“Our policy has always been that we understand that Suffolk has a changing, dynamic coastline,” she said.
“Fresh water marshes will become intertidal, which does not mean they become any less valuable, it’s just that they are very different.
“Our objective is to work the Environment Agency and other organisations such as the RSPB to make sure we gain the best outcomes possible.
“The site will almost certainly have changed irretrievably, but that’s not to say it can’t be of high value in the future.
“Salt marshes are very important habitats and many are being lost through coastal squeeze, so replacing it is vital.”
The SWT and EA are committed to ensuring that species of birds currently using the freshwater marshes as a breeding ground will have access to nearby habitats so that wildlife is not lost, just relocated.
“Birds naturally gravitate to other areas,” Ms Casey said.
“There’s a very good chance the birds will thrive there and that’s what we will be working towards.”
The Environment Agency said the breached sea wall had already been “quite a challenge” to repair over recent years and that the extent of the damage caused was likely to cost more than a million pounds to repair.
“It’s not just about cost, it’s about whether something is technically feasible,” said Karen Thomas, eastern area senior coastal advisor with the EA.
“We are in discussions with Natural England and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust as to whether it’s best to continue with the fresh water interest or whether we would do better as an intertidal wetland.”
Estuary officer at the AONB Teraza Astley-Reid said the flooding had caused damage across Suffolk’s estuaries including Levington, Shingle Bank and Shotley Marsh.
However, given the conditions which it faced, she has also praised the EA for preventing a worse disaster.
“They’ve done extremely well in this, it could have been much worse,” she said.
“Nothing has happened on a scale like this for most of our lifetimes.”