Turning the tables on the tides at Titchwell RSPB reserve, on the Norfolk coast

It hardly looks like the front line in Norfolk's battle with rising sea levels.But high tide heralded a change of tactics when it comes to climate change, as the waves flowed through a man-made breach in the sea wall at Titchwell near Hunstanton today.

RSPB wardens hope managed retreat will turn the tables on the tides in this corner of Norfolk, as the waters rise and increasingly-frequent storm surges lash our coastline.

There's a limit to how long so-called hard defences like sea walls will be able to cope - not to mention the question of who's going to fund them.

Conservationists believe breaching the outer wall at their flagship reserve will allow a buffer zone of salt marsh to build up, protecting vital habitats further inland.

'Bigger and higher walls aren't the answer,' said RSPB warden Paul Eele. 'Managed re-alignment is a proven way of letting salt marsh build up. As a technique, it's something we have some experience in.'


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Similar schemes are proving successful on other reserves in Lincolnshire and Essex. In Norfolk, first impressions look promising.

'The breach is in and the water's been coming in and out, which is very exciting,' said Mr Eele.

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His colleague, site manager Rob Coleman, described the breach on his blog: 'Seven hours, 500+ photos, 11 sausage and bacon baps (no, not all for me), two dumpers, one digger and a laser level saw us change the brackish marsh forever.'

Titchwell's coastal change project began in 2009. Funding for the �1.5m scheme has come from the EU Life+ Nature Fund, WREN, SITA, Marine Conservation Fund.

Diggers have been at work strengthening inner sea walls and creating a new two-acre reedbed on the reserve - working to a tight timetable to avoid birds' breeding season and the comings and goings of important migrants.

New pathways and viewing areas are being built, while a brand-new award-winning hide now overlooks the freshwater marsh.

Mr Eele said as well as all the activity on the human front, the reserve's breeding birds had also had a busy year.

'There were record numbers of avocets,' he said. 'As part of the project we created a new island on the fresh marsh and at one point we had 80 nests on it.'

It was boom time for bitterns too, with two females successfully rearing young in the reedbeds on and around the reserve.

A taste of what could be ahead for Norfolk's coastline comes later this month, with the highest tide of the year due on September 29.

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