Almost three months to the day since the storm surge that wracked the East coast and Havergate specifically the repairs to the seawall are complete.
The two major breaches and umpteen slippages were repaired in an operation lasting a little more than a month. At times the weather was simply awful but despite all this what we wanted to achieve, by and large, we did.
One of the striking things about the repair work done to the island was the change in policy towards the seawall. Rather than build it bigger and higher, the RSPB took the decision to lower, widen and reinforce the wall. Havergate is always going to flood and this decision was taken to lessen the impact of any further events on Dovey's lagoon. The idea is to control the overtopping by allowing the reinforced section to overtop first, this then fills the lagoons up and stops any major scouring occurring at higher thinner parts of the seawall.
Lowered and reinforced
However, as much as this is now complete, repairs work are still ongoing. Anyone who has visited Havergate before will be struck by the changes just one big tide can make. There is no Reception and visitor centre anymore, the remains having being demolished by the digger. Gullery hide has been taken down in a more controlled fashion and the toilet block, though now down from the tree is still not fit for use by the general public.
The end for the Reception centre
So, what happens next? Well the immediate crisis has passed the walls have been repaired, the integrity of the saline lagoon habitat has been maintained and the island is ready for the years breeding season. We also found the time to construct a new set of breeding platforms for the spoonbills and erect an electric fence around them.
New platforms for the spoonbills
In terms of the infrastructure; Reception centre will never be replaced, the sun has set on the remains of the oldest hide on the island. However, we have exciting plans to move the deconstructed Belpers hide down to roughly the same location as the reception centre was to give great views across Main. This however, will mean some disruption for at least the next year or so as it rebuilt in the new location but as the volunteer guide said to me on the recent Saturday visitor trip "it's not as comfortable as it was but the birds are just as excellent".
So, we are officially reopened albeit in a much reduced capacity having cancelled our major events for spring and several private trips but for details of how to book see our website. I should add that we are fully booked until July and a word of warning about the Hare population on the island. They are still around and you will definitely see them, however, do not expect to get as close as you have in previous years. Not only due to the reduction in numbers but those that are left are much more skittish.
On an unrelated note, sadly this will be my final blog as Havergate warden. After four thoroughly enjoyable years I have decided to move on to seek a new challenge with the Essex Wildlife trust. Since I won't get the chance to thank everyone personally, can I just take the chance to say a BIG thank you to all that have either helped or supported Havergate in my time as warden. I'm sure I will bump into some of you again, either on Havergate or elsewhere on the Suffolk coast.
All the best
Kieren, the island's warden, has done an incredible job over the past weeks to re-instate the protection of the island while literally fighting the elements in all weathers. He has been supported by a very hardworking digger driver and different groups of volunteers and the riverbank and the banks between the lagoons look like they are mostly back into working shape by now.
The December flood leaves visible changes to the island and some will effect the human visitors much more then the visiting and resident wildlife, because our old, spacious Visitor Centre didn't look very well after it had been lifted up and shifted by all the water.
Last week, Kevin Sawford, one of our Days of Discovery Photography Tutors, a handful of enthusiastic young volunteers and I helped with the flood clean-up on one of the brighter days this month. Lucky us: we had picked a dry and mild day and it started raining only when we arrived back at Orford Quay.
We fulfilled the sad task to collect the leftovers from the demolished Visilor Centre building and gathered a huge heap of broken timber on the lawn.
I didn't make photos that day, but Kevin has uploaded a long post on his website which is illustrated with his fantastic images - including some new hare pictures of course - and because I couldn't tell it better, please enjoy reading his version of our story: www.kevinsawford.com/havergate-island-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/
After the Christmas period and more than a month since the Storm surge, it is worth updating people about the situation on Havergate.
The worst of the flooding on the island has passed with long meadow now all but drained of water, main/gullery/north are still holding a lot of water but at least some of the higher islands are starting to emerge.
Long meadow almost back to normal
Main still holding a lot of water
Belpers and Dovey’s are now back to normal levels, however it looks like the rubble from the internal wall has blocked the water control pipe at Cottage flood so we may have to wait for a digger to clear that and restore proper water control over Cottage flood and Belpers.
Damaged Internal wall at Cottage flood
Now that the worst of the flooding has gone from Doveys we can really assess the damage done to the walls. Certainly the short term effect of the saline flooding is much reduced at Havergate, as the site is already salty, salt water flooding does not have the same severity as on fresh water systems. However, as the walls are now so badly damaged any more big tides or flooding will cause the almost complete destruction of the walls which will put the long term future of the saline lagoons into doubt instead converting them to inter-tidal mud flats. It is worth mentioning at this point that saline lagoon is an extremely rare habitat in England with the last census suggesting there was only 1000 hectares left in England of which Havergate holds 70 hectares.
Time is required to dry the volunteer huts out, here you can see huts with the carpets stripped out. I am really hoping that if we can dry out the chip board then we will not have to replace the entire floor which will include virtually having to take the entire hut apart. Not something to be taken lightly.
Also thankfully the toilet block seems to have almost serenely dropped back into place, water is still too high to look for any structural damage but once this has been cleaned out it should be good for public use.
Any attempts to clean the island out are being severely hampered by the current spell of exceptionally bad weather. I can’t remember in my time working in the conservation sector a spell like this with rain and wind almost constant.
At a reserve level we have an action plan to combat the after effects and we are hoping to get a digger out there in the next month or so to do some emergency repairs to the walls. Longer term we are working on a plan that will involve helping to make the site more sustainable and resilent to potential future storm surges.
It seems likely that when we do reopen at some point in the next three months or so we will not have repaired the hides and it may be some time till we have adequate viewing facilities for main and to a lesser extent Gullery lagoon. Some kind of short term screen may be constructed using parts of main lagoon.
It will be a long process and this is only the beginning. If you would like to support the efforts to repair not just Havergate but all the reserves effected by the storm surge please visit our website.