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Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Tuesday, 18 May 2010 16:49 UK
Thorpeness has fears erosion may be due to dredging
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Gabions at Thorpeness
The waves have washed away the shingle which covered the gabions

Homeowners living on the cliff top at Thorpeness are questioning whether dredging is to blame.

Shingle has been washed away at North End Avenue exposing the gabions (wire baskets filled with rocks) which protect the sandy cliff.

"It's very, very frightening," said Sheila Green, who lives there.

The British Marine Aggregate Producers Association said there's no connection between dredging at sea and the erosion on the beach.

"On a bad night it's quite frightening to lie in bed and hear those big waves crashing into the beach," said John Green, Sheila's husband.

"It's a great shame, because it's a beautiful spot. You get up in the morning and at 5 o'clock the sun's rising and everything is pink and you're in heaven."

The gabions were laid at the bottom of the cliff in the mid-1970s and were covered in shingle.

Until now, the stakes in front of the bottom row of gabions had never been exposed.

Heavy storms at the start of May 2010 swept away any remaining shingle and a 20 foot section of cliff was eroded to the south of the gabions.

"When you've got a high tide it would come up to the bottom of our steps here. When you're lying in bed, you can hear that the sea is nearer," said Sheila.

John and Sheila Green at Thorpeness
John and Sheila Green in their cliff top back garden

Dredging at sea

Dredging takes place at grounds all along the East Anglian coast - consisting of fossil deposits which have filled in old river channels formed in the Ice Age.

One of the largest current projects is providing the aggregate for the £300m expansion project at the Port of Felixstowe.

"Okay, if this [erosion] is an act of God, then you've got to accept it," said Sheila. "But I want to know about that dredging.

"They were extensively dredging last year and it seems that they're getting nearer.

"If they've done something like that that's interfered with our property, then we're not very pleased and we want to get to the bottom of it."

The British Marine Aggregates Producers Association (BMAPA) denies there's any connection between shifting shingle and dredging.

"If there's any doubt that the extraction was causing an impact on the coastline, the dredging would simply not be permitted," said Mark Russell, director of BMAPA.

"The near shore movement of shingle is dominated by waves. Off-shore it's dominated by tidal flows which run parallel to the coast, not against it."

He said the nearest grounds are 30.5km from Thorpeness and the depth of dredging would only ever be 2-5m.

BMAPA says the industry is regulated by the Marine Management Organisation which answers to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Warning signs at Thorpeness
Suffolk Coastal District Council has put up warning signs about the gabions

Future protection

Suffolk Coastal District Council says it is consulted on any dredging work, but it has no powers or control over it.

However, they are carrying out around £10,000 of work to shore-up the existing gabions at Thorpeness and to protect the section of cliff that's just been eroded.

"When the gabions were [originally] done, people did give money," said Sheila. "I think it was about £1000 each for these seven houses.

"So whether that will come in again? But we would hope the council will do the best part."

Sheila's house isn't under immediate threat.

"No, and I don't think it will be for quite a while, but we just want to keep the sea back a bit so that it doesn't come to that!"

In pictures: Thorpeness erosion
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17 May 10 |  Suffolk
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