Friday, 6 December 2013

Cley Marshes: after the flood

Brendan Joyce, CEO of Norfolk Wildlife Trust

I was at NWT Cley Marshes today to see the effects of the flood.

The reserve has flooded up to and including the coast road and the lower car park to the visitor centre, although the visitor centre itself is unharmed. 

We are hopeful that the water will recede quickly now that the worst has passed and only then can we properly assess the damage to habitats and site infrastructure. 

The north (Swarovski) hide has been completely destroyed but the others remain standing and when the water has receded we will be able to see the effect on these, the boardwalk and paths, fences, gates bridges and other site infrastructure. 

We are concerned about a number of breaches in the shingle ridge and believe it is essential that these are repaired by Environment Agency at the earliest opportunity.

We now face a very big clear up and repair operation indeed as there will be a lot of debris and vegetation to remove and infrastructure to repair and replace. 

As far as longer term impacts are concerned, previous experience of such events, whilst devastating in the short term, suggest that the habitats will make a full recovery although this will take time. For example the numbers of fresh water fish and invertebrates in the freshwater dykes and pools will need to build up again and the grazing marshes may take a year or two to fully recover.

We have been in this situation before and no doubt will be again, but we remain confident that this rare event does not spell doom for the reserves and that they will recover.

The visitor centre and reserve have been inaccessible today and the reserve is likely to remain so until the water has receded and we can repair access routes and visitor facilities. But we aim to re-open the centre as soon as the coast road can be reopened and the car park cleared of debris to make it safe to access. 

Please check our website for regular updates. Our other coastal reserve, NWT Holme Dunes, and those in the Broads thankfully have not suffered as we feared they might.


  1. As you rightly say its not the first time Its happened and its not so long ago since the last time Cley was completely flooded.
    How long do you think NWT can continue to pointlessly fight mother nature head on.

    You can only ever hope to manage a semi-controlled retreat over time. NWT Can't believe throwing money at the priblem & repairing the shingle banks is the answer or will ever stop the sea when in such a spiteful mood as yesterday.

    Despite the history of Cley & birding its time to prioritise without continually looking to the past through rose tinted glasses. Surely NWT must realize our money would surely be better spent elsewhere.

    I was not alone in making similar comments the last time it happened here at cley but won't say "I told you so" although we really should!......

    1. The whole of the land between Kelling and Blakeney has been vulnerable to flooding for decades. It was, after all, formerly an estuary accommodating large wooden merchant ships and the villages of Cley and Salthouse were thriving ports. The land was later reclaimed for use as reedbeds and grazing marshes.

      Major floods occurred in 1953 and 1996 with many minor floods in between. Overtopping of the shingle occurs regularly. It is predicted that, as a result of climate change and sea level rise, the land will eventually be reclaimed partially or wholly by the sea, and evidence suggests has been underway for some time already. In the medium term, we appreciate there will continue to be floods, and gradual loss of land as the shingle bank is pushed slowly landward and freshwater habitats become increasingly saline.

      A combination of incidence and trends suggest that the predicted eventual loss will not happen overnight but over at least several decades, depending on the rates of climate change and sea level rise. With this in mind we manage Cley and Salthouse Marshes to allow for impact on habitats and increased salinity and it is concluded that this stretch of coast, of such international significance, will remain a great attraction for wildlife and people for many decades, fully justifying our investment. Nevertheless, it is important that we learn lessons from flooding and seek, where we can, to reduce the impact of flooding and the cost of dealing with the results. We are assessing the results of the current flooding and will continue to do so. However, our initial assessment suggests that lessons learned from 1996 have reduced the impact on the reserve.

      NWT is not fighting natural processes but working through a longer term process of managed retreat, which does mean that the site has to be managed, including carrying out reasonable repairs after flood incidents. We know from experience that we will not only recover from this flood, but it will have brought about further changes. One of the roles we have at Cley is to inform people and increase understanding of the dynamic processes shaping our coastline.

      We know that we will have further floods although the recent flooding was caused by coincidence of rare events. But throughout this period, and for decades to come, the reserves will recover and continue to be both a haven for birds and other wildlife but also a continued fascination for all those who visit and enjoy the area.

      Meanwhile we are indeed looking at habitat recreation and adaptation to climate change elsewhere. Our wetland creation project at Hilgay/Methwold is direct response to eventual loss of freshwater habitats at Cley and we have also been creating new heathland habitats at Roydon Common/Grimston Warren and wetland habitats at Upton Broad and Marshes.

  2. The public and supporters deserve an honest answer to the above comment. Will NWT give one?

  3. What dreadfully negative comments. I'm with Brendan here: there's nothing to say that with a little patching up Cley and Salthouse Marshes couldn't easily survive as wonderful freshmarsh habitat for at least another 60 years - until we are all long dead. And what excellent value for money that would be. In the grand scheme of things, eg when people spend multi-millions of pounds on single dreadful paintings, this is not at all a huge amount of money.

  4. These disasters happen from time to time - always have, always will. Most years the saltmarshes are not flooded, and the rare wildlife thrives in a very well managed habitat. I believe the scientific consensus is that climate change is NOT a factor in the frequency at the moment, btw.

    If you don't support wildlife in difficult times, then don't bother enjoying it when all is nice and fluffy and pretty.

    John Watson

  5. When everything has been assessed, and a plan of action developed, will you be looking for volunteer working parties to rebuild boardwalks etc.?

  6. Don't spend too much energy worrying over the reseves look inland at the damage caused by " icides". Thats the real challenge the reserve of nature has to deal with.

  7. Volunteer work parties,(mostly Cley Bird Club and locals residents) and NWT staff have started clearing debris today. See the NWT website for future volunteer help.

  8. Anonymous and unidentifiable comments are valueless if you are too ashamed to put your name to it do not bother. Perhaps you have some vested interest. Not only does the Cley reserve make an important contribution to conservation, it is also of great importance to the local economy and wildlife trusts in general are of importance to the national economy. It should therefore be maintained and preserved for as long as possible and not abandoned.

  9. I fully agree with those who consider that Cley Reserve is well worth conserving. I believe that it can be maintained for the foreseeable future as a primarily freshwater bird reserve. The repairs made to the breaches in the West Bank by the Environment Agency will provide substantial protection from the regularly flooded salt marsh to the west draining into the Cley reserve. The additional sections which have been partly eroded still need to be strengthened. The lowest section of the beach, just east of the site of the late North Hide, will allow the higher spring tides to flow into the reserve. This needs to be built up with a solid foundation of large rocks enclosed by strong steel mesh to provide a robust defence against the sea. It may be possible to use some of the many lumps of concrete now exposed on the beach. Topping up with a shallow, sloping shingle bank as in the rest of the beach would provide some additional protection. There may be a few other sections in need of similar treatment.
    The East Bank also needs to be built up and strengthened where it has been lowered near the north end to help drain the area east of the east bank. The sea is currently reclaiming the old channel in the Salthouse area, which existed several hundreds of years ago when the land to the north of Salthouse was saltmarsh. Unless that channel can once more be blocked, the area to the east of the East Bank will be inundated many days in the year and may drain into the Cley reserve. Whilst the recently constructed additional sluices under the West Bank worked very well in draining the Cley reserve, the additional water from the Salthouse area will delay the draining. It would be better to let the now regular floods in this area flow back out via the tidal channels the sea has created until and if those channels can be effectively dammed.

  10. Please stop living in the once glowing past of cley's distant hayday. Flooding has returned Cley/Salthouse back to its day as a thriving port. Build a dock fir the boats, not a £100,000 boardwalk to be washed away on the next big tide.

  11. If only NWT would see the sence in the last comment. They should be looking Inland and away from the past and a flooded future.

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