SUFFOLK’S receding coastline has been encapsulated by a revealing pair of photographs taken from the air.

The comparative shots, taken 18 years apart, show the dramatic retreat of countryside on the shores of Benacre, on the north Suffolk coast.

Owners of the estate, comprising around 7,700 acres of land, have been vying to fend off the destructive North Sea tide by funding the installation of defences after Benacre was named among the smaller communities where a policy of “no active intervention” was implemented by Suffolk Coastal’s Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) last winter.

The area between Benacre Broad and Easton Broad, including nearby Covehithe village, was not considered sustainable for erosion management, and with no proposed measures in place, owners fear the land could be lost altogether unless independently funded.

Paul Patterson, senior coastal engineer at Waveney District Council, which is responsible for coastal defences, said the erosion rate is an average of five metres a year at Benacre and three or four metres a year at Covehithe.

“We do monitor it to identify trends and if there was a significant change - if erosion was to increase or reduce - that would come to our attention,” he said.

Gary Watson, the Environment Agency’s coastal engineer for Norfolk and Suffolk, echoed the comments.

“The photographs are pretty much what I would have expected,” he said. “The policy we have at the moment is one of non intervention - but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t take action if for example there was a public safety issue or other risks. However there is no policy for hard defences and that’s to sustain the sediment supply further down the coast at Southwold, which has struggled with its beaches over recent years.”

One suggestion for protecting the coastline has been to plant vegetation - similar to projects in New Zealand to guard against the threat of tsunamis.

The idea - which has been put forward by the FREdome Visionary Trust - was explored at a recent meeting in Happisburgh in Norfolk.

Those behind the idea claim the planting of vegetation would form a sustainable coastal defence that could effectively protect the coastline from erosion.

Founder and chairman Greg Peachey said: “Trials have found that vegetation traps the sediment - causing coastlines to rise and protecting against erosion. We would look to combine that with an option for stainless steel gabions, with metal baskets that can be filled with debris that is already on the beach. That way it would give some initial protection to the newly planted vegetation - allowing them to put roots down and become more and more established as time goes by.”

Mr Patterson, said while vegetation that colonised a beach - such as at Benacre Ness and parts of Lowestoft South - could stabilise a coastline as it encouraged the build up of material, it was unlikely such a step would work over more traditional defences.

“Having said that it would be unwise to write it off until it is trialled,” he added.

Mr Watson said such a project was difficult to imagine along the Suffolk coast.

“I can understand how it might work elsewhere but in East Anglia the beaches are very steep and very narrow, while the foreshore is exposed to storms. Its difficult to imagine how it would be successful. At Benacre Broad for example there is woodland on either side and fallen trees can regularly be found on the beach due to erosion.”