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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Curtains for erosion worms
Net curtains will be used to help stop the worms feeding
Millions of worms which are eating away at the East Anglia coastline are about to have their food supply cut by net curtains.

Research has discovered miles of marsh coastline in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk are suffering from erosion caused by ragworms.

The worms can be found feeding on marshes between Southend and Yarmouth, according to research by marine scientists.

Now, using old net curtains, they have devised a way to protect mudflats and keep the hungry worms at bay.

The plan is to use the fine mesh curtains to trap the worms beneath the surface of the mud to protect the most at risk areas.

Biggest threat

This prevents the worms from eating up to the surface and prevents some erosion and allows the regeneration of marshes.

Dr Rob Hughes, from Queen Mary's College at the University of London, is leading the research team.

He said the loss of mud-flats at salt marshes is now the biggest threat to coastal habitat conservation in the UK.

More than 40 hectares of marshes are lost every year in Essex, Suffolk and Kent with worms highlighted as a major causes.

He said: "We have demonstrated that the scheme can be used to manage marsh land and this needs to be used on a larger area."

The plan has been tested at a small site in Essex and now Dr Hughes is applying for further cash to extend the scheme.

He believes the idea can be used to safeguard areas and stimulate growth in neighbouring marsh land.

The worms destabilise the mud, helping the erosion process, as well as devouring seeds and seedlings.

There are an estimated 500 to 2,000 worms on every square metre of mud-flats.

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