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Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 16:24 UK
Norfolk's churches under threat
David Keller, BBC Norfolk
By David Keller
BBC Norfolk

St Nicholas Church, Potter Heigham, Norfolk (Photo: Simon Knott)
Churches along the River Thurne are under threat from coastal erosion

Norfolk's churches, particularly those on the embankment of the River Thurne, are feeling the full force of mother nature and could disappear.

Five churches with rapidly receding plots of land include All Saint's Church in Horsey and St Nicholas' Church in Potter Heigham.

"Communities are just floating away," said Kate Smith, local historian.

"We're not talking about an act of Natural England, we're talking about an ironic act of God," she added.

Natural England [the government's advisor on the natural environment] made a proposal in early 2008 to abandon coastal sea defences and allow 25 sq miles (65 sq km) of broadland around the Upper Thurne to be flooded by the sea.

It was revoked during the latter end of the year due to huge protests from Norfolk residents.

Inside All Saint's Church, Horsey, Norfolk (Photo: Simon Knott)
Churches at risk include All Saint's in Horsey

Kate believes that even though the churches along the Thurne embankment are safe for now and will be protected under government legislation until 2048, the underlying threat from rising sea levels over flat plains will not go away.

"The sea defences are now going to be maintained which is great news, but no promises were given as to what would happen after the 50 years was up," she said.

High risk

As part of her 2009 annual church crawl organised at Norwich's Dragon Hall, Kate took people on a tour of churches around the River Thurne which are at high risk from the power of the sea.

"There were five villages involved in the tour and we also went to the former site of St Mary's Church at Eccles-on-Sea, which was one of the last churches to completely disappear," she said.

"During my lifetime, the parts of the tower that fell onto the beach in 1895 have finally been subsumed by the North Sea - It's a fast process.

"Unfortunately you can't legislate for the moon, the spring tide and the roaring north-westerly gale that make the dangerous surge conditions."

There are more than just a handful of Norfolk churches at risk from the sea.

A gargoyle at St Nicolas' Church, Potter Heigham, Norfolk (Photo: Simon Knott)
All Saint's Church, Horsey
St Margaret's Church, Sea Palling
St John's Church, Waxham
St Mary's Church, Hickling
St Nicholas' Church, Potter Heigham

"On our annual tour we have been across many parts of Norfolk and we try and make the church crawl different each time," said Kate.

"The churches on the 2009 crawl were all of dedicated worshipping communities.

If the churches are redundant, they are vested in the Churches Conservation Trust [the leading body conserving England's churches], but none of these churches are in that state and cannot be protected, which is absurd."

Kate accepts that sometimes there is nothing that Natural England, the Churches Conservation Trust or even King Canute can do to stop the sea.

"What I'm really trying to put across to people is that although the outrageous idea to simply surrender the land to the sea has been quashed, if the correct surge conditions are recreated, there is simply nothing we can do to help these parishes," she said.



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