Work begins at Snettisham to rebuild sea defences between Heacham and Hunstanton

Diggers, dump trucks and bulldozers moved on to a picturesque West Norfolk beach this week to rebuild sea defences which protect more than 2,000 homes from flooding.

On Wednesday, contractors working for the Environment Agency began a race against time and tide to repair the natural defences between Heacham and Hunstanton which have been damaged by winter storms and costal erosion.

The three week project started on Wednesday and will see the work force, which includes five 30-tonne dump trucks, move around 15,000 tonnes of sand and shingle from the Snettisham Scalp back along The Wash to repair sea defences.

Ryan Ely, project manager, said: 'Over the course of the year we lose material through winter storms and coastal erosion along the beach between Heacham and Hunstanton and most of that material ends up here in Snettisham.

'We monitor the beach throughout the year through surveys to see which zones have lost the most and then we work out how much we need to move back to maintain the natural sea defences along this coastline.

'We carry out this work on an annual basis because it is the most cost effective way of maintaining the sea defences in this location and is far cheaper than hard, man-made defences.

'The sloped shingle ridge with the earth bank behind is also an effective sea defence and is crucial in minimising the impact of storms but to maintain its effectiveness we have to keep doing this.'

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He added: 'It is also a good way of keeping the material in the system rather than suffering a huge loss every year.'

This process is called beach recycling and is being carried out before the start of the bird breeding season and will be completed before the first flock of tourists arrive at the beautiful location.

'The total cost of the project, including the surveys we carried out throughout the year, is about �160,000 but that is good value for money in terms of sea defence,' Mr Ely continued.

'We will keep doing this as long as we have the funding because if we were to stop, over a period of time the shingle ridge would deterioate and fail to provide the same protection.'

Every 10 years the Environment Agency also carries out a replenishment scheme where thousands of tonnes of extra material is brought from further out in The Wash using diggers aboard huge barges. The next major replenishment is due around 2013