Digging in to protect Broads

STEPHEN PULLINGER It's one of the iconic scenes on the Broads - as you have never seen it before.The River Bure in front of St Benet's Abbey, near Ludham, has always been a popular spot for Broads holidaymakers, but the latest phase of a £120m flood defence scheme has transformed the view this year.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It's one of the iconic scenes on the Broads - as you have never seen it before.

The River Bure in front of St Benet's Abbey, near Ludham, has always been a popular spot for Broads holidaymakers, but the latest phase of a £120m flood defence scheme has transformed the view this year.

'Before' and 'after' aerial pictures taken by photographer Mike Page show the extent of the work on the dyke, stretching back to South Walsham Broad, designed to protect the valuable marsh habitat from incursion by saline water.

Paul Mitchelmore, project manager for the Environment Agency, said: “Before we started, Fleet Dyke was not a defended area. The old earth bank was uneven and had settled over the years and action was needed to stop the river breaching it at high water level.”

He added that the narrow soke dyke (a ditch running parallel to the floodbank) in the 'before' picture - created when the original earth bank was excavated - was not large enough to effectively intercept saline water seeping through the bank or washing over it.

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“In the most catastrophic event, the bank could have been washed away with the river flowing on to the marsh, which is not far away from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Upton reserve,” he said.

Contractors from Broadland Environmental Services, a consort-ium of Edmund Nuttall and Halcrow, have significantly widened the soke dyke, making it a much more effective buffer.

Mr Mitchelmore said: “Material excavated from the soke dyke has been used to construct a new earth bank. We have moved that back from the river's edge 10m and made it much wider and more resistant to breaches.”

The plan in the longer-term is to remove the redundant steel piles at the river's edge, allowing a natural reed fringe to replace them.

However, before then, contractors are talking to the Broads Authority to address concerns that removing the piles would take away a mooring facility.

Mr Mitchelmore said: “At the moment the soke dyke makes a harsh impression but we will be promoting vegetation growth along its edge and the hope is that within two years it will become a haven for wildlife, including bitterns.”

The bottom of the pictures reveals the infilling of the abbey's former fish pool in a Broads Authority scheme to dispose of dredging material.

Work at Fleet Dyke will be finished in the summer and the next project in the 20-year broadland flood defence scheme will focus on strengthening the north bank of the River Bure between Acle and Yarmouth.

The sixth year of the scheme will also see flood defence work in the Waveney valley where the rivers Yare and Chet meet.