Five villages may be drowned in 'horrifying' plan to save Norfolk coastline

Five villages, hundreds of homes, thousands of acres of farmland and a section of the Norfolk Broads would be wiped off the map if radical proposals to tackle climate change got the go-ahead, an ecologist has warned.

Dr Martin George, of the Broads Society, said plans put forward by Government landscape adviser Natural England, allowing the sea to breach about 15 miles of the north Norfolk coast between Eccles-on-Sea and Winterton, was "horrifying".

He said about an eighth of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads - about 25 square miles - would be lost under the scheme to protect the East Anglian coast.

It would also see water breach five miles inland - as far as Potter Heigham - to create a new bay.

The plan was put forward at a workshop, attended by a variety of environmental experts, including Dr George, in Norwich in February.

Experts doubt that coastal defences in the area will stand up to sea levels caused by global warming and must work out how best to spend money defending coastlines.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency, the body which advises the Government on coastline management, said the Natural England proposal was a suggestion for debate not a plan which was about to be implemented.

"I am just horrified by the proposal," said Dr George. "I would say about an eighth of the area we think of as the Broads would be lost - including Hickling Broad, the largest and most popular."

"Of course a plan like this would probably not be implemented for 25 to 30 years - but the problem is the effect this will have on the value of their properties."

Dr George accepted that ministers faced "hard decisions" about how best to defend coastlines because of rising sea levels - and said the report may bring home the scale of the difficulties faced.

He said beaches along the north Norfolk coast were being washed away by stormier seas and sea walls were in danger of being undermined.

The Broads Society want cash spent shoring up beaches.

Under the Natural England proposal, new sea walls would be built inland - easing pressure on other parts of the coast.

A spokeswoman for Natural England said the proposal was an "academic treatise" aimed at triggering debate not a "plan" - and was one of a number of suggestions put forward.

The area known as the Broads spans 74,000 acres to the north and east of Norwich and is based around 63 shallow lakes most of which were hand dug in mediaeval times by people gathering peat for fuel. The largest is the 350-acre Hickling Broad.

It is the one of Britain's most popular holiday and boating areas and contains a wealth of bird, insect and plant life.

The area is managed by the Broads Authority which is responsible for planning and maintaining waterways.

The Broads Society was set up in 1956 to promote the well-being of the area. Its members include local residents, farmers, naturalists and visitors.