On the 31st January 1953 three hundred people lost their lives when a surge tide broke through the sea defences on England’s east coast. Fifty years later, we ask the question, are we due for another such disaster?
Climate change is set to re-shape the East Anglian coastline as our sea defences are put under increasing pressure and the protective and highly productive salt marsh is washed away. With an increasing number of houses being protected by crumbling sea walls, government spending on this particular line of defence is being stretched thin.
A controversial new scheme is being pioneered at Abbotts Hall in Essex, which is being overseen by Mark Dixon of the Environment Agency. His vision is one of retreat: a section of sea wall has been flattened, allowing the sea to reclaim the land. Mark hopes the inundated farmland will revert to salt marsh - an endangered habitat vital for our coastal wildlife. But he has another theory: by giving the water a place to go during a surge tide he can relieve the pressure on the sea walls, protecting homes and industry, thus avoiding a repeat of the devastating 1953 floods. The Abbotts Hall scheme will provide the data that will either support or destroy his theory and could determine the fate of England’s east coast.