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Beach Breach Conundrum

What Future For Minsmere`s Sea Defences?

The future of the RSPB`s flagship nature reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk is under scrutiny as a consultation on its sea defences starts next week. The Environment Agency is looking at options for sea defences for the next 100 years for the Minsmere frontage, south to Sizewell Power Station.

In principle this review is welcome, says the RSPB, given the vulnerability of this low-lying coast to rising sea levels. There was a small breach in the sand dunes north of Minsmere`s North Wall last winter. [At Dingle Marshes RSPB/Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve, between Dunwich and Walberswick, there was a breach of some 500 metres of sea defences in December 2003. This is outside the scope of this particular consultation, but action is under consideration by the organisations involved.] However, the RSPB is concerned that internationally important freshwater wetlands could be lost, and is urging that these are protected for as long as possible.The RSPB understands that current problems maintaining the dunes and shingle ridge are likely to worsen as a result of increased numbers of storms and rising sea levels, and accepts that coastlines change over time. Nonetheless, the Society would like to see Minsmere protected as long as practically possible. The RSPB is employing an expert to provide advice on how the reserve might be best protected and extend the life of the freshwater habitats for many decades. Consultants working for the Environment Agency have prepared a range of options for the future, from holding the present line of defence to retreating to high ground.

The Agency is seeking the views of the public and organisations at this early stage to find out everyone`s ideal solution, and the RSPB is encouraging local RSPB members and others to give their views to the Agency. A range of technical studies will follow, especially coastal processes, which will help give a clearer picture of Minsmere`s long-term future. There will be further consultation after these studies have been completed.

The options for future sea defences at Minsmere, being put forward for public debate by the Environment Agency are:

1. Do nothing
2. Hold the present line of defence, for example with beach recharge, offshore breakwaters and/or rock armour groynes
3. A small inland realignment of sea defences between North Wall and Dunwich Cliffs Setting back the line of defences along the length of the frontage by 100-200 metres
4. A new line of defences half way across the wetlands at Minsmere, behind the famous Scrape or
5. Realignment of sea defences behind Minsmere`s wetlands, with the loss of all of the reserve`s freshwater wetlands, some 346 hectares (857acres).The RSPB first established a nature reserve Minsmere in 1947, and much of the present reserve was bought in 1977. Total reserve area is 969 hectares (2394 acres). Habitats potentially under threat from rising sea levels and/or changes in sea defences are: reedbed 165 hectares (ha); coastal lagoons (the Scrape) 17 ha, dunes and beach 42 ha and grazing marsh 165 ha. In addition, the reserve has woodland 58 ha, heathland 178 ha and farmland 198 ha, not under threat from rising sea levels. The total number of bird species recorded at Minsmere is 335, of which 230 are seen every year. There are 85-100 breeding bird species, the highest variety of birds for an area of this size anywhere in the UK.

Minsmere is of international conservation importance as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and candidate Area of Conservation (cSAC). These international designations mean there is an obligation to recreate new wetlands to replace any lost to sea level rise or other factors.

For further information contact: Chris Durdin, public affairs, RSPB regional office 01603 660066, Helen Deavin, conservation officer, RSPB regional office 01603 660066, or Ian Barthorpe, RSPB Minsmere 01728 648281

4th July 2014