New bid to hold back the tides

A major scheme to protect towns and wildlife habitat along the north Suffolk coast from seawater flooding will be unveiled to the public today.

A major scheme to protect towns and wildlife habitat along the north Suffolk coast from seawater flooding will be unveiled to the public today.

The stretch of the coast between Dunwich and Walberswick, south of Southwold, has been severely affected by coastal erosion and flooding for centuries.

It last flooded in November last year when high tides and northerly winds combined to caused chaos along the east coast, bursting the banks of the Yare and Waveney and flooding the environmentally important Dingle and Westwood marshes.

Now, following consultation with groups representing local people and wildlife in the area, the Environment Agency is to unveil its preferred strategy for managing the flood risks.

On Monday, the scheme will be presented at a special exhibition at Dunwich Reading Room, giving local people the chance to comment on the proposal before it is finalised.

Environment Agency project manager, Paul Miller, said: “This is a very important project for us. We have been trying to manage the flood risk for the villages and conservation areas for some time, but our current methods have become costly and unsustainable.

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“In the past we have repaired the shingle ridge off the coast, but it is just being flattened and overtopped by storms every year.

“This proposal involves building a raised embankment behind the properties at risk of flooding in Dunwich, which would offer a greater level of protection.

“But this will have to compete with national projects in terms of priority for funding, so it is still early days yet.”

Robin Buncombe, Walberswick parish councillor, said: “This consultation exercise is important for the movement of our case but we think there's a bigger issue for the long-term protection of Dunwich.”

The agency's previous method of protecting the coastline, by repairing the shingle ridge each time it was breached, has proven expensive, ineffective and unsustainable.

When the sea defences were breached in November last year, they were repaired by the agency at a cost of £20,000.

These breaches occurred only weeks after the agency spent £23,000 on bolstering defences on the same stretch of coast.

The public exhibition will take place from 2pm to 8pm at the Dunwich Reading Room today.


Dunwich was once one of the largest ports in the east of England, with a thriving population of more than 4,000.

Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries it was more important than Norwich and Ipswich, boasting eight parish churches, and was represented by two MPs.

But while the sea brought prosperity to the town, it would also take it away as, unbeknown to its residents, the coastline of Dunwich was shifting.

In March 1286 the combination of high tides and strong easterly winds saw a strip of land up to 100 metres wide in places washed away, taking with it homes, churches and a small monastery.

In 1328, another severe storm blocked the town's harbour, signalling the beginning of the end for the once-thriving port.

Over the next two centuries, four attempts were made to dig out a permanent harbour, but it was a battle that could not be won and ships, goods and revenues began to move, along with the estuary mouth, to nearby Walberswick.

After 1328 the exodus of people from Dunwich accelerated, with records showing that wealthy families who had witnessed the devastation wreaked by the sea made the decision to leave.

Less than 20 years later, another fierce storm in 1347 swept a further 400 homes into the sea and by 1587, Dunwich was half the size it had been in 1200.

Dunwich lost all eight parish churches, the town gates and hall, the crosses, the almshouses, hospitals, shops and private houses, the windmill and several cemeteries to the sea.