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Habitat is 'under threat'

PUBLISHED: 13:53 24 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:20 05 July 2010

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's north Suffolk manager Alan Miller.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's north Suffolk manager Alan Miller.

From the Holy Trinity Church looming over the marshes at Blythburgh to a safe haven for rare birds, the banks of the Blyth estuary offer some of north Suffolk's most peaceful countryside.

From the Holy Trinity Church looming over the marshes at Blythburgh to a safe haven for rare birds, the banks of the Blyth estuary offer some of north Suffolk's most peaceful countryside.

But the village landmarks, animals and farmland could soon be lost to the sea if campaigners are defeated and the Environment Agency's (EA) proposals to stop maintaining the area's flood defences are given the go-ahead.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's hen reed bed reserve, which runs along the north bank of the estuary, is home to the reed and sedge warbler, otter and water vole and at low tide, waders such as the redshank, avocet and sandpiper can be seen searching for food, but more than 40 acres of the marsh could be lost if the estuary breaks its banks.

The agency announced a year ago that it planned to stop repairing the walls which protect thousands of acres of land, roads and homes around the Southwold, Walberswick, Reydon and Blythburgh areas because it could not afford the £35m needed to repair them.

Now, despite a lengthy period of public consultation, the EA's eastern regional flood defence committee is expected to announce on Friday that the flood walls will be abandoned over the next two decades.

The hen reed bed is an important wildlife habitat, supporting three pairs of marsh harrier, nesting bittern and a herd of konik Polish ponies, as well as rare wetland plants like the skull-cap and lesser water parsnip.

Alan Miller, Suffolk Wildlife Trust's north Suffolk manager, said that up to 45 acres of the hen reed bed reserve could be lost if the flood walls are not maintained.

He said: “This is a very important nature habitat. The wall has recently been repaired to fill in the breaches caused by the floods last November, but we only have a guarantee for five more years of maintenance - after that we don't know what will happen.”

Flooding will also pose a risk to the Holy Trinity Church - known as the cathedral of the marshes - and Southwold harbour, where the estuary meets the North Sea.

Mr Miller said: “The water from here flows with the tide through Southwold harbour and if there is more water in the estuary in the future, then it will flow faster and wear away the harbour walls.

“The defences are all interdependent - any wall is only as strong as its weakest point because once it is breached, the water flowing out will take material with it and weaken it further. Maintenance needs to be all or nothing,” he said.

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