Floods recovery: £1m repair bill to protect fragile Blakeney Freshes habitat from seawater contamination

A breach in the clay bank at Salthouse following the December 5-6 storm surge is clearly shown in th

A breach in the clay bank at Salthouse following the December 5-6 storm surge is clearly shown in this aerial photo. Sea water is entering the breach and flooding the land behind. The breach has since repaired naturally. Picture: MIKE PAGE - Credit: Archant

It would cost almost £1m to repair breaches which are allowing a fragile north Norfolk freshwater habitat to be contaminated with sea water, according to an Environment Agency (EA) chief.

Steve Hayman told a Coastal Forum meeting in Cromer that work to fix about 37 breaches in the earth bank along the Blakeney Freshes would be extensive and 'well beyond our local maintenance budget.'

The breaches were caused by the storm surge of December 5 and 6 last year and wildlife experts fear that birds such as lapwing, red shank, marsh harrier, avocet and bittern which use the freshwater grazing marsh, would no longer breed there if it became a saltwater habitat.

Mr Hayman, area coastal adviser for Norfolk, told the forum that the EA was looking to find money from whatever sources were available but he warned that other stricken parts of the country, including the flooded Somerset Levels, were also bidding for cash help from a limited national pot.

And he urged all interested parties to join together to help prepare the best possible bid to help the whole affected north Norfolk area.

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The regular forum, hosted by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), included representatives from the district and county councils, National Trust, Broads Authority, parish councils along the flooded coastline, coastguard, King's Lynn consortium of internal drainage boards, and Norfolk Coast Partnership.

It was the first time the forum had been held since the surge and chairman, district councillor Angie Fitch-Tillett, said it had been a wake-up call to many.

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'Until that particular day people up and down this coast thought 'It will never happen to me,'' she said.

'I think 'awareness' is the word I would like everyone to take home to their communities. It's quite obvious that there is something different about the weather and we don't know whether this will happen again.'

Simon Hooton, who leads the Broads Authority's Broads Community project, looking at ways of adapting to a changing environment, said climate change was happening and events thought of as extreme were likely to occur more commonly.

'The earlier we plan, the better we will cope. We have to start thinking big,' said Mr Hooton.

Malcolm Kerby, who has been at the forefront of Happisburgh's long-running campaign for help in coping with coastal erosion, said he could hear the first hints that people affected by flooding were now beginning to think about adapting to changing conditions.

'I think that's going to play a major role moving forward,' he said. 'We need some kind of funding to assist people to adapt in areas which are going to be overtaken.'

The EA has carried out repairs to breaches in the clay bank affecting the 17-18 properties east of Cley which were flooded by the surge.

But the agency was monitoring, rather than repairing, the shingle ridge which it expected would repair naturally.

Forum members heard a technical debate between engineers in the room about the drawbacks of using bulldozers to create ridges.

They agreed that artificially-made ridges did not contain the 'fines' - fine sand and small granular material – which created an impermeable cement in the naturally-created ridges which, although lower, were more effective.

Brian Farrow, principal coast protection engineer with NNDC, listed repair work being undertaken along the stretch of coast for which the council has responsibility.

It included reinstating the car park at Weybourne and removing ineffective old steel sea defences exposed by the surge. Mr Farrow said their sale had almost paid for the cost of the work.

? Have you been affected by flooding? Contact: newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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