© Richard Osbourne

Coastal works to protect Norfolk’s wildlife from rising sea 

Monday 04 September, 2023

This week sees the start of major works at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley and Salthouse Marshes nature reserve to help the site and its wildlife adapt to rising sea levels and protect its freshwater habitats. 


The site is one of the country’s most popular birdwatching sites, attracting more than 110,000 visitors each year. 


As with many other coastal sites, an increase in storm events has meant that the sea is flooding inland more frequently, threatening sensitive freshwater wildlife habitats that the north Norfolk nature reserve is famous for.  


Freshwater reedbeds found at the site play a key role in the survival of vulnerable species including bittern, marsh harrier and otter, and until now have been protected by the ‘New Cut’ - a special drain which helps to remove salt water from the site before it encroaches the freshwater habitat found further inland.  


However, in recent winter storms, huge volumes of shingle have been pushed by waves onto the nature reserve blocking parts of the drain. 


Adam Pimble, Nature Conservation Operations Manager, explains: “The new work will see the most vulnerable section of the New Cut moved to the south, making it far less likely to become filled with shingle. 


 “Each year we are seeing the impacts of climate change affecting our communities and our wildlife. With storm events predicted to increase in frequency, in addition to further sea level rise, we know that we are in a race against time to protect the special wildlife that relies on Cley’s freshwater habitats. 


“It is very hard to predict the impacts of climate change, however based on modeling provided by the Environment Agency we anticipate that this work will put Cley in a much better position to adapt to the ongoing impacts of climate change and protect the site’s freshwater habitat for decades to come.” 


Other works taking place as part of the project include reprofiling the nature reserve’s North Scrape, which provides feeding grounds for winter waterfowl and waders and rejuvenating an area of reedbed to benefit bitterns and other reedbed species into the future. 


The project also includes the creation and installation of a unique hide on wheels overlooking the nature reserve’s wildlife-rich North Scrape. The special design will allow the structure to be towed to safety when a major storm is forecast, enabling visitors to enjoy fantastic views of the site’s special wildlife from an unobtrusive spot for many years to come. 


This project has been funded by the Environment Agency Eastern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee and through generous donations by NWT supporters, including Cley Bird Club and the family of Robert Gillmor.    


Richard Powell OBE CEnv, Chair of Anglian Eastern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, said: “It is great news to hear the scheme at Cley is about to be delivered. It is a good example of how Local Levy money is able to help a scheme go ahead, it is important that we are able to support great projects like this.  Special thanks to the tremendous NWT members who have contributed so much to this fabulous nature reserve which is so important for biodiversity and the economy of the North Norfolk Coast. 


Norfolk Wildlife Trust anticipate the works will take no longer than three months, and don’t expect any significant changes to visitor access during this time. 


For more information on the works visit: norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/newcut  

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