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Surge damage assessment a waiting game

PUBLISHED: 13:55 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:35 20 May 2010

EXPERTS have revealed they will have to wait until the spring before they know the full extent of damage caused to North N orfolk coastal nature reserves left in the wake of November's havoc.

EXPERTS have revealed they will have to wait until the spring before they know the full extent of damage caused to North N orfolk coastal nature reserves left in the wake of November's havoc.

Vast tracts of the rare freshwater marsh wildlife habitat at Cley and Salthouse were swamped by the sea when it battered and flattened shingle banks - leaving water lapping alongside the coast road.

It is a sight that will become more frequent as the marshes are left to become a natural sponge to soak up the sea as it overtops a shingle bank, left to flatten and retreat naturally by the Environment Agency, instead of bulldozing it back in place each time after every storm.

The clear-up continues after the powerful surge shoved the shingle up to 100m inland, burying fences marking out grazing land.

Freshwater fish were killed off, wiping out a food supply for some rare visiting birds such as spoonbills and avocets - and the iconic bittern. But the longer-lasting effects will not emerge until March or April when the grazing marshes should start growing again.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust director Brendan Joyce said improved drainage on the marsh, following the last major flood in 1996, meant the Cley reserve was clear within days, while Salthouse took a week

or so.

But how much damage the saltwater had done by sitting on the grazing marsh would not be clear until the growing season beginning next spring. If the ground was badly hit by the salt, it could take one to two years to fully recover.

Bitterns would find other places, and the trust was seeking other habitats because of the longer-term threat to Cley, but hoped they would return next year for breeding.

He said the marsh was a rare habitat that needed natural grazing by cattle and sheep to keep it trim, rather than mowing by man, creating conditions that attracted snipe, lapwing and rare plants.

“We moved the grazing fences tens of metres back to where we thought they would need to be in 20 years time, and we have reached there already,” he added.

About a quarter of the Cley reserve, about 80 acres, was flooded and all of the 200-acre Salthouse reserve was covered by seawater after the November 9 surge.

New drainage was installed in a £2m project to provide a better “plughole” for the marshes now they are more prone to seawater inundation, and had worked well.

The theory was that the new flatter shingle bank would be better at absorbing wave energy. But in practice, parts of it - especially between the Cley beach car park

and North Hide - had been virtually levelled, resulting in the sea overtopping twice since the storm.

The Environment Agency has said it does not intend to do any work on the bank as it did its job and was overtopped rather than breached. But Mr Joyce said the trust would be having talks with the EA about the profile of the bank to see if there should be any intervention.

One “fatal” victim of the storm appears to be the Cley beach car park café, a former coastguard lookout which closed in October after the lease ran out.

The NWT reserve is open 10am-4pm daily. Call 01263 740008 or visit www. norfolk

wildlife

trust. org.uk

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