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Faced with the risk of losing everything to the sea, a local community has stepped up to take over responsibility for defending its coastline.
With 90 miles of coastline (increasing to 93 when the tide is out), stretching from Kings Lynn to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk in the United Kingdom has one of the longest coastlines in the country.
It attracts thousands of visitors each year and is the site of numerous archaeological discoveries, including the oldest footprints in the world. It is also a coastline at risk.
Combinations of strong winds and high tides lead to flooding and major devastation, as experienced in 1953, and more recently in 2013.
Scenes of broken houses teetering on cliff edges have become the norm. Climate change and rising sea levels increase the risk of flooding still further.
Coastal protection is limited. There are sand dunes, and a grassy bank some distance inland. Most of the coastline is exposed to the sea. A low lying agricultural area, there are very few large towns within the county.
UK Government policies focus on a mix of managing a retreat, not intervening and holding the line within selected areas, such as around a gas terminal at Bacton.
The North Norfolk District Council sea defence projects have included building groynes, timber revetments, offshore reefs and protective rock armour on various beaches, but most areas do not have any protection at all.
The result is that many communities are at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods. One of those communities decided enough was enough.
Businessman Mike McDonnall owns several caravan parks in an area stretching from Snettisham to Hunstanton.
These areas have traditionally been maintained by the UK Government’s Environment Agency via an annual beach recycling process each winter, plus recharging the beaches every fifteen years. Costing £150,000 annually (around AUD$278k), beach recycling involves returning sand transported by longshore drift to its original location. A £2m beach recharging requires dredgers to add extra sand and shingle.
Discovering that the UK Government was withdrawing funding for these processes, Mike took action.
He set up the East Wash Coastal Management Community Interest Company, involving all the local businesses, to take over responsibility for maintaining the beach defences.
Under the scheme, the Government could provide partnership funding, topping up whatever amount is raised from the community by 25 per cent. As it is a community interest company, there are no taxes and VAT involved.
Funds are raised from caravan and holiday homeowners using the caravan parks, which now have £50 per caravan and £100 per holiday home automatically added to their annual rental charges. Other homeowners along the coast can opt to contribute similar sums.
Mike has found it to be a positive path.
”It has been very successful. The scheme paid for the recycling in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Money is building up in the bank so that when the time comes for a recharge, it can be undertaken,” he said.
“Because we are working on a long-term basis, not year to year, we have been able to reduce the annual recycling price to £85,000. We now have the beach checked twice a year. We have demonstrated our commitment, and ability to raise funds and this has given us confidence in the long-term future.”
About the author: Angela Youngman writes as a correspondent for the International WaterCentre, charged with exploring water challenges and the ways these challenges are managed around the world.