Nature reserve surrendered to rising seas
By Michael McCarthy
Monday, 25 August 2008
A major nature reserve is to become one of the
first casualties of the rising seas around
Part of Titchwell Marsh, a favourite spot for
birdwatchers on the north Norfolk coast, is to be
sacrificed to the waves to save the rest of the
site from destruction.
The site, owned by the Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds, has seen its sea defences
starting to give way after years of coastal
erosion, exacerbated by global sea level rises,
according to Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Director
The charity has decided to undertake a “managed
retreat” and rebuild defences more securely
inland – meaning that a substantial portion of
the reserve, currently brackish marsh and
sheltered from the sea, will become tidal marsh
and flooded twice a day.
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
Last week, Lord Smith of Finsbury, chair of the
Environment Agency, revealed to The Independent
that stretches of the coastline were doomed.
Visited by about 90,000 people a year, Titchwell
is home to rare species such as bitterns,
avocets, bearded tits and marsh harriers, and in
spring and autumn hosts migrating wading birds
such as ruffs and curlew sandpipers. But coastal
erosion has put the reserve’s mixture of brackish
and freshwater marshes and reedbeds at risk of
inundation, as the sea walls protecting the
northerly part of the site are being undercut.
Were they to give way, a saltwater flood of the
habitats behind would severely damage them – for
example, wiping rudd, the fish which is the main
prey for bittern.
“The erosion has been going on for years but it
is being accelerated by sea level rise, so we
have to act earlier than we would have had to,”
said Dr Avery.
Sea levels are rising because of climate change.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) estimates sea levels are rising at
a rate of about 3.1 millimetres per year.
The RSPB’s £1.5m plan involves an earth bank sea
wall 200 yards inland. The alternative would have
been concrete defences, inappropriate for a
“It’s about balancing the interests of the site
and finding the most sensible solution ,” said
the RSPB’s Helen Deavin, project manager of the
scheme. “We’ve got to bear in mind the impacts of
climate change such as increased storminess.”
The scheme should protect the reserve for 50 years.