Campaigners turn to shovels and sandbags

PUBLISHED: 10:42 21 April 2008 | UPDATED: 20:12 05 July 2010

Campaigners ranging in age from young children to pensioners in their 80s were filling sand bags at a Suffolk beauty spot on Saturday in a defiant attempt at DIY sea defences.

Campaigners ranging in age from young children to pensioners in their 80s were filling sand bags at a Suffolk beauty spot on Saturday in a defiant attempt at DIY sea defences.

Almost 50 people picked up shovels on Walberswick quay to fill 1,000 bags that were taken up river in a flotilla of small boats and placed to bolster defences on the Blyth Estuary that had failed during the storm surge in November.

A campaign was first mobilised to protect the area last year after the Environment Agency revealed plans to abandon flood defences over a 20-year period on the grounds of cost.

Residents were stung into action by the prospect of thousands of acres of land, homes and roads around Walberswick, Southwold and Blythburgh coming under threat of flooding.

Blyth Estuary Group spokesman John Huggins said they had already plugged the most serious breach earlier this month with 2,000 sand bags, and their work had been rewarded by seeing the water level going down on Tinkers Marsh and Delacroix Marsh. Saturday's effort, involving members of the group and its supporters, was to address a further nine breaches.

He said: “With our small numbers, we can't physically plug all nine breaches so we are positioning the bags to support the saltings, the area in front of the river wall.”

Blaming the Environment Agency for the defence failings “for doing virtually nothing since they took them over in the 1960s” Mr Huggins said placing the sand bags was just the first step in their DIY action to rebuild defences.

He said: “These walls have been there for nearly 400 years, maintained by local fishermen using shovels and spades and clay from the local area. We have sent all the messages we can to the Environment Agency and know if we don't do the work ourselves it won't get done.”

So far they had spent less than £500, but they now intended to set up a website - linked to the Southwold website - to appeal for more sizeable donations.

He said: “For the next stage we will need to build a three-mile access road behind the river wall. We hope to use waste soil for the project and will be looking to the Environment Agency to at least sort the paperwork for that.”

Mr Huggins, who is semi-retired and lives at Southwold, said a digger could then be brought in to dig a dyke and use the clay to repair the river walls.

He estimated they would need to raise £20,000 to £30,000 but the project would be supported by income from firms paying to dump waste soil for the access road.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency pointed out it had spent £60,000 since November on maintenance and repair to the Blyth Estuary and stressed they were keen to work with local communities to look for other ways of funding.

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