16 February 1996

Sea defences run down

By Tony McDougal

NORFOLK growers fear a proposed new site of special scientific interest in the Halvergate Marshes will disrupt water levels in the area.

The 1417ha (3500-acre) site at Halvergate will go on top of the Norfolk Broads Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme and has been designated, as the ditches are of outstanding importance for nature conservation.

But arable farmers just outside the SSSI claim it is ridiculous to impose one on top of an ESA. They fear pressure from English Nature on internal drainage boards will result in an increase in the depth of water tables and possible flooding of arable land.

John Sherman, who farms 142ha (350 acres) at Britannia Farm, Acle, near Yarmouth, said he was looking for a minimum water level to protect his arable crops, which run to the SSSI boundary.

"I cannot understand the need for an SSSI on top of an ESA. This strikes out at the whole ESA system."

Clive Doarks, English Nature conservation adviser for the Broads, said the two conservation schemes had different aims. "The ESA is an entirely voluntary scheme which seeks to improve environmental management of the area. The ESA scheme is half way through the initial designated 10-year period and there is no certainty it will continue," he claimed.

Mr Doarks said the SSSI at Halvergate would protect the wide range of water conditions supporting an outstanding number of plants and fauna. "The freshwater ditches rich in pondweeds are recognised in the Broadland context as being of international importance." The SSSI would also protect overwintering Bewick swans, along with various geese.

The overall management of SSSIs is expected to be raised in the House of Commons today (Fri) through the second reading of James Couchmans (Con/- Gillingham) Wildlife Bill, sponsored by Friends of the Earth.

&#8226 MAFF has increased by 25% the rate of grant aid available to internal drainage boards to manage water levels in internationally important conservation sites.

Peter Blaxell surveys emergency repair work at Sea Palling.