Region braced for Arctic blast

EAST Anglia looks set to be battered this weekend by Arctic winds, high tides and even snow.The Met Office has issued a severe weather warning, predicting at least a 50% chance of heavy snowfall.

By David Green

EAST Anglia looks set to be battered this weekend by Arctic winds, high tides and even snow.

The Met Office has issued a severe weather warning, predicting at least a 50% chance of heavy snowfall.

Environment Agency bulldozers began work on the Suffolk coast yesterday – trying to shore up sea defences before the onset of storms forecast for tomorrow night.

Four of the machines were on the coast near Dunwich where heavy seas earlier this week gauged out a 800-metre stretch of the shingle bank protecting the freshwater habitat at the Dingle Marshes nature reserve.

A lake of saltwater was still lying on the northern part of the reserve's grazing marshes yesterday but it had disappeared from the southern side.

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Saltwater has also been drained from part of the reserve's reedbed – a feeding ground for the rare bitterns that frequent the area.

Alan Miller, Dingle Marshes warden, said the bulldozers were pushing shingle into the gaps created earlier this week.

"They will do as much as is physically possible in the time frame but we don't know whether it will be enough to prevent further flooding.

"It depends how kind the wind and sea turns out. We will just have to wait and see," he said.

Mr Miller said there had been some natural deposit of shingle by tides during the past few days and this was being pushed into place by the bulldozers.

Rory Sanderson, Environment Agency spokesman, said the bulldozers would be working at Dunwich until early in the New Year.

The plan was that two of them would then move north to Easton Broad and two would go south to Minsmere. Coastal defences at both locations need strengthening.

Audrey Boyle, Suffolk Wildlife Trust spokeswoman, said it could be two months before the extent of damage to the Dingle Marshes reserve was fully known.

"Both the RSPB and ourselves fear that the next wader nesting season on the marshes will be poor as much of the plantlife will be lost and earth worms greatly reduced," she said.

Ms Boyle said the flooding highlighted the vulnerability of coastal freshwater habitats and their loss would focus conservationists' efforts to create compensatory habitats inland.

"Coastlines are dynamic. Sea walls are constantly being eroded and the sea shifts millions of tonnes of sand and gravel along the Suffolk coast each year, altering the shape of the shoreline.

"Climate change is thought to be increasing the levels of storminess and severe gales have become more frequent. The combined effect of these conditions is likely to result in a greater risk of flooding along our east coast," she added.

With the prospect of severe weather affecting parts of the country this weekend, and many people travelling for Christmas, the Highways Agency, which manages England's motorways and other strategic roads, has issued an urgent alert to drivers to take care when using roads.

The Agency will alert drivers of difficult conditions by issuing updated traffic information through travel information providers, including to local radio stations.

Ken Blowers, EADT weatherman said the cause of the cold snap would be cold air from the arctic.

Last week saw higher than expected tides in Felixstowe and Southwold batter the coastline, flooding gardens and smashing beach huts.

David Kemp, Environment Agency team leader for flood warnings, said: "No flood warnings have been issued at the moment."

But with tides peaking over Christmas Eve and rising in the run up, the combination of sea levels and strong winds could create problems.

Suffolk County Council's Highways Maintenance Manager, Mike Atkins said: "We are taking this seriously and we will be prepared as we can be –it is also difficult to know exactly where and when snow will fall. We have forecast providers who give us detailed forecasts every day highlighting conditions such as ice or snow.

"Staff will be on duty for twenty-four hours over the weekend. We will be on stand-by and get gritters out in one hour's notice."

Patrick Gregory, maintenance policy engineer for Essex County Council, said that around 65 gritters were poised to spread salt across the county's key roads if the weather turned bad.

There was an estimated 50% chance of snow tomorrow he added.

"We get regular updates on the forecast. At the moment it looks like the bulk of the bad weather is likely to hit Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

"If it does look like it will be bad here, we will try to get out and pre-salt around 40% of the network – bus routes, A roads and B roads. Our role is to try and keep those roads open until we have got sufficient coverage to protect them against the current and forecast weather," Mr Gregory said.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency advised anyone concerned about floods to contact flood line on 0845 988 1188. There is also Winter Warmth Advice Line available on freephone 0800 085 7000, with lines open between 8am and 8pm.

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