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Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit's Deben saltmarsh scheme
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

River Deben, Melton
Workers rebuild the wall between the Deben (foreground) and the marsh

Conservationists are trying to save an area of saltmarsh in Suffolk by rebuilding a river wall.

£18,000 is being spent on the man-made bank at Melton to stop the tidal River Deben washing away the habitat on the other side.

The wall was originally breached when a bomb fell on it during World War II.

"Although the Deben has got the most saltmarsh of Suffolk's river estuaries, it's disappearing fast," said Malcolm Farrow, Suffolk Coast & Heaths Unit.

The area in question covers 16 hectares (40 acres) between the Deben and Sutton Hoo, just downstream from Wilford Bridge.

The river was encircled by walls in the 18th and 19th Centuries which meant the eastern bank was drained for grazing cattle.

Malcolm Farrow, Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit
Malcolm Farrow with the Wilford Bridge over the River Deben

The breach caused by the bomb was originally seen as a happy accident because it turned an area that was no longer grazed into saltmarsh.

However, the changing nature of the tides and further erosion of the river wall has meant the Deben is actually washing the saltmarsh away to leave mudflats.

"They're both valuable and we don't want all the mudflats to disappear, but saltmarsh is much scarcer," said Mr Farrow.

"Saltmarsh plants such as sea lavender and sea purslane are a valuable community.

"It's also important as a roost for the birds such as redshank which feed on the mud and as a nursery for young fish such as bass.

"Saltmarsh will regenerate naturally by itself providing we provide the right conditions for it."

Saltmarsh, Suffolk
Saltmarsh plants include sea lavender and sea purslane

Wicker fencing

And that is where the new river wall comes in. Posts are being sunk along the line of the existing mudbank and wicker fencing will be used to create the new barrier.

This will still allow river water to fill the salt marsh area, but it will slow down the flow and prevent plants being washed away.

At the southern end of the wall, a sill is being built using geotextile bags filled with sediment and covered in muds.

This aims to slow the ebbing tide so that saltmarsh plants can take root. It will also capture more sediment and mud.

It is expected to take just a few weeks to complete the project and then let nature do its work.

The Suffolk Coast & Heaths Unit has worked alongside Natural England, the Environment Agency, the National Trust (which owns the land) and other local conservation groups which make up the Deben Estuary Partnership.

"It has been really exciting to work with the local community on developing this project and seeing it come to fruition," said John Jackson, coastal conservation advisor, Natural England.

"This kind of adaptive and innovative approach is likely to become increasingly important for protecting our natural environment against climate change and sea level rises effects."

Bleak beauty

Malcolm Farrow says the area will be genuinely wild, because it is inaccessible to the public.

"It is a site that you can see from the Melton side of the river quite well, but because the public can't access it it's particularly valuable for wildlife.

"Birds can nest and roost there without any disturbance.

"Although to some people the river might look quite bleak and an uninviting place, I think it does have a beauty all of its own.

"It's part of the character of the area and what makes it such a special place.

"In the other Suffolk estuaries, it's really disappearing fast, so it may be something we can do elsewhere.

"Particularly the Orwell where there's been a lot of erosion and parts of the Alde as well."

River Deben, Melton
The breaches to the river wall can be seen looking towards Wilford Bridge

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