Many of the coastal sea defences erected after the 1953 flood that killed 307 people in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Lincolnshire are disintegrating through age, and need to be replaced. However, with a sea level rise of up to 1.15 metres, or possibly more, this century, and increasingly violent storms forecast, then simply rebuilding them or making them higher is too expensive to be a viable option. Since tourism and access to the sea are vital, and the benefits to birdlife and fish nurseries that the region’s marshes represent are valuable assets, then a different way has to be found.
Research has shown that a salt marsh just 40m wide can reduce the height of waves by 20%, and 80m wide to near zero. Academics from Cambridge (which, judging from a topographical map, might otherwise be needing a sea wall in the future), other experts from the region’s universities and conservation groups such as the National Trust that own a lot of the coast, are intent on expanding existing marshes.
Since it is the storm waves that demolish cliffs and even solid concrete walls, the plan is to retreat slightly inland and develop “soft defences” in front of valuable farmland and coastal settlements to prevent much larger swathes of East Anglia being swallowed by the sea.