Nature reserve 'may be lost to the sea'
AN INTERNATIONALLY-important East Anglian nature reserve could be lost to the sea unless defences are strengthened, it has been warned.The Environment Agency is to examine the options over the future of defences protecting the Minsmere nature reserve, a freshwater area which is home to the UK's largest population of the rare bittern as well as many other birds, mammals, insects and plants.
By David Green
AN INTERNATIONALLY-important East Anglian nature reserve could be lost to the sea unless defences are strengthened, it has been warned.
The Environment Agency is to examine the options over the future of defences protecting the Minsmere nature reserve, a freshwater area which is home to the UK's largest population of the rare bittern as well as many other birds, mammals, insects and plants.
The RSPB, which owns the reserve, believes that while the existing defences are prone to the occasional breach - as happened last winter - they may last several more decades.
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But officials believe action will be necessary if the reserve - employing 20 staff and attracting 80,000 visitors a year - is to be protected from saltwater flooding in the longer-term.
It is calling for the nature reserve, created nearly 60 years ago, to be defended for the foreseeable future but accepts it may eventually be swamped if global warming leads to a major rise in sea level.
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If the sea breaks through the a shingle ridge, sand dunes and embankment protecting it, flooding could also threaten isolated homes, farmland and, possibly, the nearby Sizewell nuclear site where defences are also to come under Environment Agency scrutiny.
The options for Minsmere are to:
n do nothing and let nature take its course;
n re-align the existing sea defences between 100 and 200 metres west of their current position;
n build a new line of defences behind the famous "scrape", a shallow freshwater area, which would be sacrificed to the sea; and
n build a new line of defences further inland, sacrificing the reserve's entire 857 acres of freshwater habitat.
The RSPB accepts that coastlines change over time but it is to employ its own consultants to consider the options, as will the two companies which own the Sizewell power stations.
The nuclear site is currently protected from the sea by a shingle bank but this would not prevent flooding from the Minsmere marshes to the north.
Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman in East Anglia, said current problems in maintaining the dunes and shingle ridge at Minsmere were likely to worsen as a result of increased numbers of storms and rising sea levels under global warming scenarios.
"The RSPB is concerned that internationally important freshwater wetlands could be lost and is urging that these are protected for as long as practically possible," he said.
Further up the coast at Easton Broad the Environment Agency has concluded that wildlife habitat cannot be defended in the long term and is recommending a "retreat" policy, including the creation of a new reedbed further inland.
An Environment Agency spokeswoman said the aim was to provide a sustainable long-term flood management solution between the northern boundary of the Sizewell power stations to the Minsmere nature reserve which was of "international importance and environmentally designated".
"This study will consider a preferred flood defence management option or series of options, taking the rest of the coastline into consideration," she said.
The agency is launching a public consultation exercise which seeks to gauge public opinion over the future of the sea defences.
It is due to hold a public exhibition at the RSPB's Minsmere visitors centre from 2pm to 7pm on August 12. Consultants will be present to hear people's views.
Minsmere's international designations mean that if it is abandoned to the sea, compensatory habitat will have to be created further inland.