National Trust report pushes for the government and communities to adapt in order to protect coastline

Aerial view of the aftermath of the December 2013 floods. Pictured: Blakeney Marsh. Photo: Mike Page

Aerial view of the aftermath of the December 2013 floods. Pictured: Blakeney Marsh. Photo: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

The loss of an 'internationally important' freshwater habitat on the north Norfolk coast would be a 'disaster' for wildlife and tourism, a conservation expert has warned.

It comes as the Shifting Shores National Trust report recommends a policy of working with nature, adapting to change and different organisations working together to preserve its land including the Blakeney Freshes, which attracts wildlife tourism.

The document has been published in the wake of the winter storms and focusses on the trust's 1,130km of coastline.

But Blakeney Parish Council chairman Tony Faulkner said he personally believed it was more important to protect properties, rather than land.

He added if new freshwater areas were created it was not as important to retain the Blakeney Freshes and the combination of freshwater and saltwater could attract more wildlife.

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Richard Porter, a professional conservationist from Cley, said: 'Complete abandonment of the freshwater marshes would be a disaster for wildlife conservation. While I can understand and fully support most cases of letting nature take its course, there are special cases and Blakeney Freshes is one of those cases. We are talking about an internationally important area for wildlife.'

He thought the trust did not need to fully rebuild the bank protecting the freshwater marshes from saltwater.

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Mr Porter added the reserve was iconic for green tourism because of the nature it attracted including avocets, bearded tits, bitterns, marsh harriers, brent geese, pink-footed geese.

Part of the trust report said: 'Wherever possible the trust will conserve and enhance wildlife at the coast and create new spaces to allow it to adapt. As sea levels rise, coastal habitats will be subject to flooding and erosion where they are in front of man-made sea defences.

'Sometimes, wildlife will be unable to adapt. At Blakeney we may see the loss of freshwater marsh and coastal reed bed. We urgently need to find space for new freshwater habitats, giving wildlife the chance to adapt to change.'

Mr Porter said the creation of new freshwater areas would cost more compared to the rebuilding of defences.

The Blakeney Parish Council chairman said: 'People and property are more important than land. It is a question of looking at the issues and trying to get the right balance.'

The Blakeney area is one of 70 hotspots for the trust, as well as Brancaster beach which was severely damaged in December.

Phil Dyke, coast and marine adviser for the trust, said: 'We need to start thinking about things differently. We are urging the government to think about developing policies and practice regarding defending and adapting.'

The organisation is hoping to have a strategy in place by 2020 and wants to involve the community.

Mr Dyke and an Environment Agency spokesman added a decision regarding the Blakeney Freshes had not been reached.

Simon Pryor, natural environment director at the National Trust, said: 'Hard defences will always have their place, but the winter storms that hit many coastal areas hard have provided a valuable reminder that they have a limited life.'

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