So much to lose: How climate change could affect Norfolk if we don't act now

Flood warnings at Walcott.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Waves crash against the sea defences at Walcott - Credit: Antony Kelly

Centuries ago, the drainers sunk their spades into the peat and dug the dykes that drove the water from the Fens.

Fast forward 400 years and low-lying areas could one day be submerged again if the sea breaks through to reclaim them.

For the impacts of our changing climate will be increasingly felt in the decades to come across our region.

1953 FLOODSFENS FLOODINGPLATE P5533

Flooding in the Fens near Downham Market in 1953 - Credit: Archant Archive

If world leaders meet the pledges made at the Cop26 talks before they climbed back onto their private jets,  they might put the brakes on global warming. But it won't be halted overnight.

Even if we cut emissions now, sea levels will still keep rising around our shores. A rise of between 0.5 and 1m is predicted by 2100.

Prof Robert Nicholls, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich, said promises made in Glasgow should ensure temperature rises remained below 2C by 2050 provided they were acted upon.

"It means much lower impacts than if we had 4C," he said. "But we still expect to see some increase in heatwaves, dryer summers and higher sea levels.

A vehicle makes its way thorugh the flooded main road at Sherborne. Picture: Ian Burt

Flash flooding after heavy rain at Shernborne, near Hunsstanton - Credit: Ian Burt

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"The sea has been rising through the 20th Century, it's now rising faster."

Extremes of weather will become increasingly common, from localised flash flooding to North Sea storm surges triggered when low pressure weather systems combine with high tides and northerly winds.

Storms like that of December 2013, which caused widespread coastal flooding, become more likely.

Scenes of devastation after the flood surge at Hemsby.Homes in The Marrams which have fallen down

Scenes of devastation after the flood surge at Hemsby in 2013, when homes in The Marrams were destroyed - Credit: James Bass

Homes were destroyed at Hemsby in the 2013 surge. There was widespread damage to wells seafront.

Prof Nicholls said heavy rainfall, like that seen recently in Germany, was a greater threat to the Fens.

"You have to put in bigger pumps," he said. "That buys some time but they will have to be replaced by bigger pumps in 50 years' time or something like that."

The main road through Cley was closed because of flooding. Picture: Ian Burt

Flooding at Cley after the 2013 storm surge hit the north Norfolk coast - Credit: Ian Burt

Rising temperatures could see staple crops like beet and barley become difficult to farm - along with the tomatoes and cucumbers in your green house.

Jeff Price, a professor of biodiversity and climate change at the UEA, said: "At 1.5C you start losing a lot of pollinators so you start to have problems with the crops that need pollinating - your brassica crops, your apples and other fruits.

"Farmers are going to have to truck in bees like they do in other countries."

A bumble bee feeding on a lavender flower Picture: Chris Bishop

Rising temperatures will see fewer pollinators, making crops and fruit harder to grow - Credit: Chris Bishop

Rising temperatures won't only impact on human food. The birds are going to struggle too.

For in a report compiled with other climate experts for the Tyndall Centre, Prof Price warns of a catastrophic decline in moths, whose caterpillars are a main food source.

Many species time their breeding around peak caterpillar numbers, while the grubs are also a key food source for migrating birds. 

The report, Goldilocks and the Three Temperatures in Norfolk, models the impact of three temperature rises on our county's wildlife - 1.5C, 2C and 3C. The goal of the original Paris Agreement was to limit temperature rises to 1.5C. 

Swallowtail butterfly feeding on the Norfolk Broads near Horning. Photo by Bill Smith

Swallowtail butterfly feeding on the Norfolk Broads near Horning. Photo by Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2011

The report warns 50pc of amphibians lose their "climate suitability" at 2C, along with 23pc of dragonflies and 21pc of mammals.

Some 7pc of birds will lose their "climate suitability" at 1.5C, 11pc by 2C and 27pc by 3C. Norfolk will not only look very different in 2100. It's skies will be quieter too.

Some 60pc of land in the Norfolk Broads is already below present-day sea level.

And as sea levels rise and our weather becomes more extreme, the likelihood of flooding increases.

The Norfolk Broads.

Flood risk is expected to increase on the Norfolk Broads - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Most at risk are coastal areas from Walcott to Winterton, along with tidal rivers like the Yare and Thurne, and Great Yarmouth.

The Broads Authority says in 50 years' time, sea levels are expected to rise by up to 0.46m (18ins) and by 100 years’ time are expected to be up to 1m (3ft 3in) higher.

"The risk of coastal flooding will increase because any given tidal surge will occur on top of a higher sea level. Increasing risk comprises not just the potential for damage, but how frequently it could occur," said Andrea Kelly, the BA's environment policy adviser.

Broads Authority senior conservation officer Andrea Kelly, pictured at Barton Turf Staithe looking f

Broads Authority senior conservation officer Andrea Kelly, pictured at Barton Turf Staithe looking for killer shrimp which has been growing in population around the Barton Broad area.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

"For example, at the mouth of the River Yare, a peak storm level which is only likely to occur with a 0.1pc chance in any year today, could be 30 times more likely to occur when sea levels have risen by a metre."

Between now and 2100, the BA says it expects to see more frequent overtopping of rivers, flooding of farmland, boatyards and communities.

Flooding in 2013 in London Road South, Lowestoft. Picture: Nick Butcher.

Flooding in 2013 in Lowestoft - Credit: Nick Butcher

The authority and its partners like the Environment Agency are developing natural flood management measures like restoring peatland and wetland habitats, such as those on Hickling Broad, to store water and absorb carbon.

Along the vulnerable coastline, sand dunes and salt marsh are being restored to absorb wave energy. Inland, the BA is working with the Department of Transport to look at how the thousands-strong fleet of hire cruisers could be converted from Diesel to electric power.

Flooding near the Yare pub in Brundall.Photo: Paul HewittCopy:Ben KendallFor:EDP newsEDP pi

Flooding near the Yare pub in Brundall after the river bust its banks - Credit: Paul Hewitt

"Rising sea levels and a changing climate will make the area increasingly vulnerable to the risks of flooding and erosion, with the local environment and economy increasingly reliant on flood defences," Ms Kelly said.

"We are already dealing with increases in extreme weather events and climate variability, such as droughts, storms, floods and rainfall as a result of climate change and we expect this pattern to continue.

"We recognise the urgency of action needed and we are putting the people who live and work in the Broads at the heart of the decisions about their future management."

Flooding near the Yare pub in Brundall.Photo: Paul HewittCopy:Ben KendallFor:EDP newsEDP pi

Flooding near the Yare pub in Brundall after the river bust its banks - Credit: Paul Hewitt

"Rising sea levels and a changing climate will make the area increasingly vulnerable to the risks of flooding and erosion, with the local environment and economy increasingly reliant on flood defences," Ms Kelly said.

"We are already dealing with increases in extreme weather events and climate variability, such as droughts, storms, floods and rainfall as a result of climate change and we expect this pattern to continue.

"We recognise the urgency of action needed and we are putting the people who live and work in the Broads at the heart of the decisions about their future management."

One person can make a difference and we must all act now to do our bit to save the planet. That's the theme of the EDP's environmental call to arms, titled 'Time To Do Our Bit'.






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