RSPB Minsmere re-opens its improved flood defence wall

Experts say the scheme has been designed to adapt to rising sea levels

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Flood defence work has been completed at RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast, re-opening an earth bank and footpath for birdwatchers.

The Environment Agency has spent £1m on the North Wall at the nature reserve near Dunwich.

The bank has been raised to cope with North Sea storm surges which can breach the sand dunes.

The RSPB said the work was essential to protect the reserve's lagoons and their avocets, bitterns, otters and voles.

Ian Barthorpe, RSPB manager at Minsmere, said: "At some point in the future, and that could be next winter or 20 years' time, when the sea comes into the northern end of the reserve, we can protect the rest of the reserve.

"Nature adapts but it's limited to where it can adapt in our highly populated country and there aren't very many places where freshwater reed beds are able to establish themselves, particularly on the Suffolk coast.

Otter at Minsmere A family of three otters have been regularly seen at Minsmere in 2012
Alternative reed beds

"Had it not been for Minsmere, we probably wouldn't have bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers left in the country at all."

The North Wall has been closed to walkers since the work began in August but visitors can now use it as part of the circular route around The Scrape again.

The work will also protect 12 properties and the reserve's new visitor centre, which is under construction.

While the new work protects the reserve to the south of the North Wall, the RSPB plans to leave the freshwater reed bed to the north of the wall at the mercy of the North Sea.

The wildlife charity said it was developing or creating alternative reed beds at inland sites at Snape, Suffolk and in the Fens and Somerset.

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