Coastal defence shocks experts

Happisburgh's sea defences have been badly managed and the shingle bank at Salthouse is in the wrong place, according to a European coastal defence expert visiting Norfolk yesterday.

A number of academics speaking at a conference near Norwich today toured several Norfolk erosion hotspots yesterday to get an idea of the county's problems.

Among the group were three European specialists from Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

They visited Salthouse, Happisburgh and Sea Palling, accompanied by members of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who are involved in the organisation of today's On the Brink conference at Barnham Broom Country Club. The conference will address the issues of sea level rise and coastal defences in the southern North Sea.

Viewing the situation at Happisburgh yesterday afternoon, Karsten Reise, whose main interest is coastal policy in Germany, explained why he was taken aback by the state of the sea defences in front of him and at Salthouse.

"I was amazed by the shingle, amazed that any trust has been given to this sort of structure," said Dr Reise.

"It seems any winter storm might push this structure aside. It is in the wrong place and should be realigned closer to the housing area."

Turning his attention to Happisburgh, he said: "This coast has been destroyed by misplaced hard coastal defences.

"With enough foresight, one could have known you can't use hard coastal defences in an area with sediment deficiency."

Dr Reise also said that, in Germany, there was compensation available to those who lost property to coastal erosion. There is no such compensation in the UK.

Other experts visiting the coast yesterday included Marinka Kiezebrink from the Netherlands, who will speak about coastal policy in her home country today.

She outlined the importance to the Netherlands of sand nourishment – where sand is brought in from the sea bed and used as a defence mechanism.

Dr Kiezebrink will discuss the Dutch experience with coastal risk management, coastal policy and the developments in that policy.

Michael Sayer, CLA executive member, said he would like to see the issues surrounding sea level rise and coastal defence "unbundled".

"All the different issues are important, but we need to stop confusing them."

Mr Sayer said he hoped the conference would encourage the reassessment of sea defence policy.

He will also give a presentation addressing the various issues at Norfolk sites, including Brancaster, Salthouse, Happisburgh and Sea Palling.