Trust accused over coastal erosion

AN MP has accused the National Trust of “betrayal” after it emerged the charity will not try to defend its coastal properties in East Anglia from erosion by the North Sea.

By David Green

AN MP has accused the National Trust of “betrayal” after it emerged the charity will not try to defend its coastal properties in East Anglia from erosion by the North Sea.

Among the losses expected in the 22nd Century are the tearooms and former coastguard cottages at Dunwich Heath and the property's access road.

But John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal and former Environment Secretary, accused the National Trust of “betraying its principles” for not exploring sea defence options.

The trust owns about 18% of the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, much of it of high landscape and wildlife value.

However, it is now preparing a strategy to cope with what it regards as the inevitable loss of land to the sea.

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Peter Battrick, the trust's eastern region communications and marketing manager, said: “There is precious little we can do to stop coastal erosion. If we tried to build walls or groynes in front of our properties experience shows there would be an adverse effect elsewhere on the coastline.”

Mr Battrick said building defences also did not make sense on a cost/benefit basis.

“They are so expensive we could not afford to do anything,” he said.

He disclosed that the trust accepted the tearooms and the “holiday home” coastguard cottages at Dunwich Heath would be lost to the sea, possibly in about 100 years time, as well as the access road which runs parallel to the coast.

Access to the site in the future might have to be via Mount Pleasant Farm, an inland Dunwich farm purchased some years ago in order to turn arable fields back into heathland.

Mike Collins, spokesman at the trust's national headquarters, said the charity would be trying to work with the erosion process, not trying to fight it.

However, it was anxious to participate in a holistic approach to shoreline management and would be meeting other stakeholders later this year.

But Mr Gummer said he was angry at the trust's stance. “It shows that people cannot trust the National Trust when they leave it some land,” he said.

“It has bought a great deal of land with public funds on the understanding it is going to protect it.

“It is a betrayal of local people and betrayal of the principles of the national trust.”

Mr Gummer said he accepted that not all parts of an eroding coast could be defended from the North Sea but the National Trust ought to be considering the options, not accepting loss of land and property as a “fait accompli”.

“This is straight political correctness. The National Trust and the Environment Agency are simply swallowing the line promoted by a Government which does not want to spend money defending our coast,” he added.

Mr Gummer said he was seeking a meeting with the trust's director general, Fiona Reynolds, to press for a change of policy and for every case to be considered on its merits.

He was also pressing the Environment Agency to take an independent stance on coastal defence, not merely rubber-stamp Government policy.

“The building of hard defences may not be the answer but there may be soft solutions such as the recharging of the beach with shingle which will absorb the power of the waves,” Mr Gummer added.

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