Norfolk wildlife freshwater habitats surrendered to sea

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Media captionSalthouse marshes on the North Norfolk coast may in future be abandoned to the sea

Freshwater habitats for rare plants and wildlife in Norfolk could be given up to the sea after December's storms and floods damaged coastal defences.

The Environment Agency has hired consultants to assess damage and said "managed retreat" may be carried out.

This means allowing wildlife reserves or farmland to become tidal salt marsh.

Councils claim this will damage tourism but experts believe new species will colonise salt marshes and freshwater habitats can be created elsewhere.

A combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides led to a record tidal surge along many parts of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast in December.

Paul Leinster, head of the Environment Agency, told MPs this had seriously damaged sea defences, some of which were still under water.

The agency had a budget of £30m to repair sea defences and priority would be given to people and property but a thorough review would be carried out first.

Extra sea defence

"Temporary repairs have been made in some areas but engineers need to carry out detailed inspections and come up with long terms plans to protect coastal communities."

Sarah Dawson, chair of the parish council at Salthouse, one of the areas hardest hit by sea floods, said they were very concerned.

She said the loss of wildlife habitat at nearby Cley, Blakeney and Brancaster would hit tourism on which the area depended.

Laurence Rose, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said mixed salt marsh would attract new species and act as an extra defence from the sea improving the land's resilience.

But he was concerned over the loss of freshwater habitats.

"These take time to develop and in the short term we need to speed up their development further inland."

Mark Johnson, coastal manager for the Environment Agency, said: "We have already employed consultants to review the situation in Brancaster, Blakeney and Salthouse.

"We are expecting their report next month.

"The report and discussions with our partners and those affected will help us to consider our options for the North Norfolk coast."

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