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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 19:52 GMT
Beauty spots may go to save land
Patrick Byrne
BBC News Online

Abbotts Hall salt marsh
Allowing the development of salt marsh can protect land and property
Sacrificing East Anglian beauty spots to the sea is being hailed as a key weapon in the battle against coastal erosion, an expert says.

The demolition of a 200-metre sea wall on an island in an Essex river estuary has already revealed its effectiveness, said Keith Turner, of the National Trust.

The wall at Northey Island, in the Blackwater Estuary off Maldon, was knocked down two years ago, controversially exposing an acre of National Trust grassland to the sea.

Already 23 species of herb plant have colonised the area and the growing saltmarsh has attracted mud wading birds such as oyster catchers and snipe.

The lessons we have learned from the Northey Island trial have helped us to develop strategies for dealing with erosion problems at all our coastal sites
Keith Turner, National Trust
Now people with homes and businesses on vulnerable parts of the coast, land-owners and conservation groups are being asked to consider options in their battle with erosion.

Mr Turner, the National Trust's Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire area manager, told BBC Online: "The lessons we have learned from the Northey Island trial have helped us to develop strategies for dealing with erosion problems at all our coastal sites around the British Isles."

This important land includes North Norfolk conservation areas, wildlife sites in Suffolk and other parts of Essex.

Places like Happisburgh in Norfolk, Abbotts Hall in Essex and parts of Suffolk could benefit from the new data.

"We are now sure there is no panacea - no single answer," Mr Turner said.

"We have been working closely with the Environment Agency to study the dynamics of the Blackwater Estuary.

Controlled flooding

"We now understand that salt marsh development, maintenance of sea walls and allowing controlled flooding of grasslands all have their place in dealing with erosion.

"We also know where each one works best and a report now due will designate which answer is best for which of our coastal sites."

At Northey Island the sea reclaimed the original creek system which was drained when the area was turned into grassland in the 18th Century.

"The beauty of the managed retreat policy is that each successive tide is full of silt which is deposited over the developing salt marsh bringing nutrients to the plants," Mr Turner adds.

Global warming

"This also helps to counter the effects of global warming and land movements affecting the east coast. East Anglia is dipping into the sea at the rate of 2mm per year but the tides are dropping a lot more silt to protect the land behind.

"With a sea wall there is a lot of maintenance and repair. It is also possible to allow certain patches of grazing land to flood every six or so years to relieve pressure from the sea.

"All these are answers to erosion problems we have been able to identify from the Northey Island studies."

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