Banking on defences

STEPHEN PULLINGER These new channels and banks next to a river in the heart of broadland look for all the world to be the work of some mad digger driver.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

These new channels and banks next to a river in the heart of broadland look for all the world to be the work of some mad digger driver.

But engineers are quick to point out the method in their madness.

The work, alongside the River Bure down to the mouth of the Thurne, is the latest phase of a £100m-plus flood defence scheme designed to protect agricultural land and villages throughout the Broads.

It will also remove miles of unsightly metal piling protecting river banks, replacing it with natural reed bed defences that will create whole new areas of quintessential Broads scenery.

The 20-year project is being funded by the Environment Agency and carried out by Broadland Environmental Services, a consortium set up by Edmund Nutall and Halcrow.

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Environment Agency engineer Paul Mitchelmore said: "What the picture shows is how we have moved the flood defences back, creating a new earth bank.

"The idea is that we will be able to dispense with costly and unsightly sheet piling and create a natural river edge."

The area between the new bank and the river - including the triangle of land at the river mouth - would gradually, over a period of years, be transformed into a new reedbed.

Mr Mitchelmore said: "There are currently 70km of sheet piling throughout the system which is expensive to replace. What we are creating are sustainable, far more environmentally friendly flood defences.

"The reedbeds, which will be submerged at times of high water, will become a valuable habitat for marsh harriers and other rare species, including bitterns."

The new banks have been fashioned out of material from freshly-dug dykes - also visible in the picture snapped from the skies by retired garage owner Mike Page.

Mr Mitchelmore said these dykes also had an important role, acting as a buffer between the saline water in the river and the freshwater on the marshland, which included Norfolk Wildlife Trust's new Upton Broad and marshes reserve.

He said: "Working with the Broads Authority, we have also created some areas where they can dispose of dredging material, a major difficulty for them, and this activity is being carried out by the barge in the picture."

In some areas, setting back flood defences was not feasible - because of the presence of properties, for instance - but in such cases a broader bank was generally built to minimise the risk of it bursting.

The whole scheme has taken into account the impact of global warming, using as a base figure the calculated 6mm annual rise in sea level at Yarmouth.

Mr Mitchelmore said: "We have carried out flood defence work at the previously undefended communities of Reedham and St Olaves, and we are working in Brundall."