According to a press release, the RSPB has been forced to take radical action to save one of its best-loved reserves from the sea. To stave off catastrophe it has decided it must allow the sea to reclaim part of the reserve in order to save the rest.
Under the scheme, the sea wall will be moved back behind the present brackish marsh, which will be allowed to return to tidal saltmarsh. This will allow new and improved sea defences to protect the fresh water marsh and the reedbeds with their precious breeding bitterns from the rising tides.
As the Eastern Daily Press reports:
Reclaimed from the sea hundreds of years ago, the marsh was used for target practice and cattle grazing until the floods of 1953 breached its ancient defences.
Two decades later, the RSPB began work on what soon became one of its most visited reserves, where tens of thousands would flock to see rare species like bitterns, bearded tits, marsh harriers, plovers, egrets and terns.
But as Titchwell’s popularity grew as one of the coast’s top attractions to a new generation of conservation-minded tourists, the North Sea was less impressed with man’s attempts to contain it.
Beneath the waves, longshore drifts are powerful currents which run parallel to the shore, pushing sand along in their path.
Two such currents collide head-on at Titchwell, carrying sediment away from the site. Second World War remains, including a pill box and tanks which once stood on the dunes, now lie on the beach several yards below the high tide mark.
Dunes in front of the reserve were worn away by the mid-1990s. A creek formed as the sea broke through, which now channels the force of the incoming tide at a corner of the low sea wall which is the reserve’s first line of defence.
Recent winters have seen storm surges come within a metre of overcoming Titchwell’s defences. Surges are the North Sea’s perfect storm, caused when spring tides coincide with low air pressure and northerly winds.
“Sea levels are rising and storm surges are more prevalent,” said Rob Coleman, who leads the 30-strong team of staff and volunteers looking after Titchwell.
“We looked at building a sea wall but that doesn’t really fit in with us because it’s not very green having concrete everywhere.
“We looked at the options for building up the beach. We believe you need to allow the coast to do what it wants to do to build up natural processes.
“I don’t like the word managed retreat, because that doesn’t really convey what we’re doing. We’re not giving it up to the sea, we’re working with it. It’s all about balancing losses with gains, if we don’t give up the brackish marsh the whole lot could go.”
The surrender to the sea comes ahead of a National Trust report this week that will warn that 10 of the UK’s most famous landmarks will be dramatically altered by coastal erosion. They include St Michael’s Mount off Cornwall, Studland beach in Dorset, and the eighteenth-century Welsh village, Porthdinllaen.