Minsmere at risk from sea

MORE than 60 acres of nature reserve on the Suffolk coast are to be abandoned to the North Sea.

MORE than 60 acres of nature reserve on the Suffolk coast are to be abandoned to the North Sea.

The Environment Agency will on Friday reveal plans to “withdraw maintenance” from an earth bank which protects part of the internationally important Minsmere nature reserve, between Dunwich and Sizewell.

Dunes protecting the bank have been severely eroded in recent years and officials believe that spending further money in trying to shore-up the defence cannot be justified - because the sea would soon break through.

It will mean that more than 60 acres freshwater marsh at RSPB Minsmere, used by the rare bittern as well as marsh harriers, bearded tits and otters, will become more vulnerable to saltwater flooding.

While it does not believe that continued maintenance of the wall is economically or environmentally sustainable, the Environment Agency is also proposing to spend £1million in raising the height of another wall, known as Coney Wall or North Wall, which runs east west from the beach towards the Minsmere visitors centre.

This wall protects the most important part of Minsmere - an area of more than 750 acres of freshwater habitat which is the main feeding and breeding ground of the bittern and many other species of bird. Agency officials believe that maintenance of this wall will protect the area for at least 50 years.

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However, both the agency and the RSPB acknowledge that much of Minsmere will be lost to the sea in the long term and the search has already started for compensatory habitat further inland.

Stuart Barbrook, the agency's project manager, said that a range of options had been examined for defending the area over the next 100 years. The RSPB, the National Trust, which owns Dunwich Heath to the north, and British Energy, owner of most of the Sizewell nuclear site to the south, had been consulted.

Among the options had been the construction of off-shore reefs and beach groynes.

A “do nothing” option would mean that the whole of the Minsmere reserve would be at risk of saltwater flooding, Mr Barbrook said.

Ian Barthorpe, RSPB spokesman, said: “We support the scheme. Our view is that while we'd like to protect valuable habitats where feasible we accept than within 20 years this wall is likely to go.”

The agency's “preferred option” for sea defence in the area - the culmination of five years work - is to go on public display at Sizewell Sports and Social Club near Leiston on Friday between 2.30pm and 7pm. People will have three months to give their response.

n. Do you think more should be done to save Minsmere? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk