24 August 2001
Sea defence repairs halted

By David Green

OWNERS of farmland behind sea defences in East Anglia are protesting after routine maintenance was halted by concern about disturbance to rare plants.

English Nature, the governments wildlife watchdog, is opposing the repair of the shingle bank south of the Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh.

Winter storms create large holes in the bank. Repair work has been carried out each summer for the past 15 years since an 8 million sea defence was completed.

Each year, the Environment Agency repair the sea defence using shingle. But English Nature says the work is disturbing rare plants.

It is insisting that the agency complies with European rules which require other defence options, such as building a concrete wall, to be considered.

Even if the agency concludes that the present practice of transferring the shingle is the best option, it will have to mitigate damage to the rare plants.

Meanwhile, Robert Skepper, who farms 200ha (500 acres) behind the sea defences, said he feared that the shingle bank could be breached.

Arable fields and wildlife-rich water meadows could be vulnerable to flooding and saltwater contamination, he added.

Mr Skepper said: “Should the sea be permitted to break through, the whole rural economy of the area will be put at risk with devastating consequences.”

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said there was no risk of flooding while the future strategy was decided.

Richard Rafe, head of English Nature in Suffolk, said authorities responsible for sea defences had to justify their options if they had an adverse impact.

He added: “We may be made to appear as the bad boys in this situation, but we are merely asking for the proper procedures to be followed.”

FREE NEWS UPDATE
CLICK HERE to receive FWis FREE new daily email newsletter to keep up-to-date with the latest news of foot-and-mouth and other farming-related stories