Crumbling coast concerns aired

There is no point in defending communities like Happisburgh from the sea, and the fate of the Broads is a salty one, according to top scientists.

The inevitability of coastal erosion will be spelled out tonight, along with warnings that biofuels will damage the East Anglian countryside.

These pressing issues - which have been raised by children - will be debated at Bungay High School during the recording of Radio 4's Home Planet. It is the first time the show, in its 10th series, has left the studio to go in front of an audience.

Questions on how to protect the Broads given a policy of managed retreat from the sea, and the ecological impact of biofuels, have come from sixth-formers Mark Seaman, 18, and Aaron Flowerdew, 17.

Philip Stott, a panellist and professor in bio-geography at the University of London, praised the quality of students' questions.

And he said: "We are not going to be able to defend the coast against the changes that are going to come."

Happisburgh falling into the sea was "sadly likely to be inevitable", even without climate change, because East Anglia is sinking. And the result of protecting the north-east Norfolk coast could itself threaten the Broads.

"The trouble with management of the coasts is that changing one bit of coast means changing someone else's coast. Defending north-east Norfolk would remove material that is being washed down the coast and protecting the Broads.

He said the Broads would certainly become salty, although might be possible to keep some parts as fresh water.

Panellist Derek Moore, who founded the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said: "The East Anglian coastline is going to be different. We cannot fight it."

He said that defending villages like Happisburgh - and the Broads - would be impossible. "It would cost so much money to do it and after 20 years you will have to do it again.

"The Broads are going to be different. It might still be brilliant for wildlife, but it will be saline habitat."

Prof Stott said that biofuels would reduce carbon emissions but could harm East Anglia's countryside. Meeting even a fraction of the country's bioethanol needs would require large amounts of set-aside to be brought into cultivation.

"You would be replacing food production with vast areas of monoculture. A greener fuel, which most people think is a good idea, has to be put against improving barn owl populations. There is no simple answer."

Mr Moore said: "I don't think biodiversity will get any better."

  • Home Planet will be broadcast on Tuesday at 3pm.

Our coasts must be defended (EDP Letters) PIERS PRATT Chairman, Norfolk branch of the Country Land and Business Association, Ryston Estate, Downham Market.

The crucial need for a co-ordinated coastal defence strategy for the East of England is highlighted by the conclusions of the latest government report "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change".

Sea levels are rising so we cannot afford to wait. If the present level of government inactivity continues, it is only a matter of time before there is a major disaster.

Sir David King, the government's chief scientist, is quoted as saying that we can no longer be sure we can avoid a catastrophe.

Does the Government really want its neglect of coastal defence and the inland communities behind them on its conscience? And how will it protect the important wildlife habitats that have been created, much of it with taxpayers' money, along our coasts? At the very least, defences must be maintained while a proper strategy is put in place and quickly.

There are important stretches of the Eastern Region sea defences whose life could be usefully prolonged if only there was an acceptance that to operate a "stitch in time" policy is best use of government funds.

At relatively little cost, upkeep of these areas would buy time to provide the breathing space needed for implementation of a sound, properly co-ordinated coastal defence policy.

The report's conclusions also underline the need for a substantial renewable energy policy to provide "green fuels" which would have such a beneficial effect on climate change - and which could be grown on the fields of Norfolk.