Action needed to help wildlife weather the storm


The breeding grounds for some of the UK's rarest birds have narrowly escaped the storm surge that swept down the coast of East Anglia last night and this morning. In the wake of the surge, the RSPB has called for urgent Government action to create large areas of important habitat like reedbeds further inland to prepare for the day when the sea claims large areas of the English coast.

Bittern (Photo: Bob Tomlin)

Freshwater reedbeds along the coasts and Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk are home to more than 70 per cent of the UK's breeding male Bitterns. There were just 51 breeding males recorded this year, with 37 in Norfolk and Suffolk. Several areas have flooded however, including reedbeds at the RSPB's reserve at Dingle Marshes in Suffolk and the neighbouring NNR at Walberswick, both considered prime Bittern habitat.

For the first time the sea has also managed to overtop the wall protecting the large Westwood Marshes reedbed on the site. Salt water is still pouring into the reedbeds at the Society's Strumpshaw Fen reserve, killing large numbers of fish in the second major flood in as many years. No Bitterns are likely to breed there next spring, while other birds and otters are likely to be short of food.

It is estimated more than 1,000 hectares of freshwater reedbeds and grazing marsh will be lost to flooding and erosion along the coasts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex in the near future. Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's director of conservation, said: "This has been a close run thing, but sea levels are rising and storms are only going to become more frequent as our climate warms. This whole coast is of huge value for wildlife, covered in sites of international importance and it is imperative the Government acts now to create the habitat plants and animals are going to need if they are to survive in a changing world. Starting from scratch, it can take 15 years to get somewhere up and running as a breeding site for Bittern. It can be done but Government needs to get on and do it. They have been talking about this for years while the threat has grown. Every winter now, there is some flooding."

The situation at RSPB reserves around the coast:

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The coastal dunes that protect the site have suffered erosion and the sea watching platform at the end of the beach boardwalk has been destroyed.

Berney Marshes

Narrow escape as the sea came within a couple of inches of the top of the seawalls.

Mid Yare reserves

The river Yare is backing up and has broken its banks in a number of places. Surlingham marshes are flooded and salt water is pouring onto the freshwater reedbeds at Strumpshaw Fen killing large numbers of fish. Water is seeping through the river banks at Cantley and at Buckenham the river is overtopping in a number of places.

Dingle Marshes

A 1km breach has been opened in the shingle bank protecting the reserve from the sea. The outer marsh is completely submerged and water has overtopped the wall protecting the reedbeds at neighbouring Walberswick.


The surge breached the dunes but secondary defences held, protecting the most important areas of the reserve. The site is open but with restricted access to the beach. Staff are on site advising visitors.

North Warren

Some overtopping and seawater incursion through the shingle bank between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness, but no significant threat to the marsh or reedbed.


RSPB staff are concerned about what may have happened on Havergate Island but have not yet been able to reach the reserve to assess damage.