Walberswick: Hope for threatened coastland

HUGE swathes of Suffolk coastland under threat from cutbacks on river defences could be saved by the public’s “ingenuity” with only limited funding from the public sector, it has been claimed.

Andrew Blois, who is fighting to save land around the Blyth estuary, said much more progress was being made with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency (EA) under the coalition Government – with work on a major project set to start this summer.

The farmer and landowner has been taking action since the EA announced in 2007 that it could only afford to maintain river defences on the Blyth for the following five years. It was originally thought that about 40 homes and hundreds of acres would be under threat.

But Mr Blois is hoping that work to prepare for a major rebuilding of the river walls on his land at Walberswick will begin in the next few months and is working in partnership with the EA to limit the loss of land.

He said he was hopeful that agreement and partnership working between landowners and the Government could help save coastal land – including around the Alde and Ode and Deben estuaries, which will all suffer from river defence cutbacks.

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“This shouldn’t be about abandoning our land but looking at ways to make the best of the ingenuity of the private sector and using public funds cost-effectively to provide schemes that future generations can be proud of,” he said.

“It is actually what the Big Society is all about – everybody playing their part in giving good value.”

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Mr Blois, who is Suffolk chairman of the Country Land and Business Association, said permission had been granted for his project to rebuild the river walls on his land and the EA had offered to pay for a track to give access for diggers to get to the area to do the work.

“We want to retain the character of the area and maintaining the height of the wall consistently means we can respond quickly to tidal surge events and reduce the ongoing cost of maintenance,” he said.

He said that work already carried out to repair Tinkers Marshes in Walberswick and other projects had been carried out at a far lesser cost than estimated by the EA. “The private sector can deliver things cost-effectively but it needs oversight and planning and not people just doing individual things,” he said.

Mr Blois, who also sits on the Blyth Estuary Group, said there was now “better dialogue” with the EA and that he was hopeful for the future of the threatened land, which is in an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“I don’t want to be walking out here with my grandchildren, looking out at mudflats and saying ‘I did nothing to stop this’. Everyone’s trying to find the best solution.”

Mark Johnson, area coastal manager for the EA, said he was pleased with the progress of the partnership work with Mr Blois. “We are very keen to work with landowners, local authorities and different organisations to get the best outcome for the coast,” he said.

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