After the biggest tidal surge in 60 years, we can now report on the impacts this storm has had on our reserves along the Suffolk coast.
Starting here at Minsmere, we can report that while there is severe erosion on the dunes, the rest of the reserve is unaffected, following the first big test of the recent Environment Agency sea defence works. As with the last big surge in 2007, the sea has breached the dunes on the northern part of our frontage, between the North Wall and Dunwich Heath. It did overtop into North Marsh, but as the Penstock Sluice was closed the rest of the reedbeds and the Scrape have avoided any tidal flooding, and North Marsh should recover relatively quickly.
Where the dunes breached, water has flowed south along the low point between the dunes and the secondary defence bank, creating a lake and blocking access to the beach from the North Wall, as well as access to East Hide and the Public Viewpoint. The northern bund installed by the Environment Agency between the dunes and bank has been eroded and there is some scoured out of the back of the dunes as well as extensive erosion on the seaward side of the dunes. This does leave Minsmere more vulnerable to future tidal surges, but we're safe for now.
Flooding preventing access to East Hide (above) and North Wall (below)
We expect access to East Hide and the Public Viewpoint to be closed for several days until the flood waters drain naturally away. Access to the beach is possible via the sluice. We have escaped flooding in the reedbed though as the Environment Agency is pumping water from the New Cut over the dunes so that they can repair the sluice structure. These pipes have been damaged so there is some beach erosion at theis point, but it's too early to assess the full extent of any damage.
Minsmere is open as usual, apart from East Hide and the Public Viewpoint. You don't even need wellies on most of the trails, though it's muddy in places on the path to the sluice. (Note, the cafe will be closed on Wednesday and there will be cash only in the shop due to a planned power outage.)
The situation is not so good elsewhere, though there appears to be no damage at either RSPB North Warren or RSPB Boyton and Hollesley Marshes. North Warren is certainly worth a visit with impressive numbers of ducks, the first white-fronted geese, and a starling roost of 6-8000 birds visible from the reedbed boardwalk along the old railway line.
At RSPB Dingle Marshes a large section of the shingle ridge has been breached, with overtopping along most of the frontage. Most of the marshes are now under salt water, and the Dunwich car park has been flooded. It's likely to be many days before the breach repairs itself and water levels return to normal so we recommend avoiding Dingle Marshes for the foreseeable future. Our livestock were moved to higher ground before the flooding, so they are safe.
At RSPB Snape the new wetland areas have been flooded as water levels rose up the Alde estuary and river valley. Again, all livestock is safe, and all machinery was moved. but it's too soon to assess the full impact.
RSPB Havergate Island has suffered the full force of the surge tide, which completely covered the island and has breached the wall in two places. We think both breaches are repairable, but it's not been safe to land on the island yet. We know that two hides have moved on the tide and the toilet shed is perched in a tree, so it's likely that some of the bridges and boardwalks on the island will be damaged too. The wardens will be assessing the situation properly as soon as they can access the island and will then arrange work parties for the island's volunteers to assist with repairs. We hope that the island's famous hares will be OK as we know they are strong swimmers and they'll have sought out the highest ground.
For the latest information on other reserves please see the relevant reserve pages, or the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page. There are more pictures of the flooding on the Facebook page too.
With severe flooding warnings having been issued right along the east coast for tonight and tomorrow morning we are taking precautions. We've closed the Penstock sluice on the North Wall, which will be first major test of the recent improvement works by the Environment Agency. This should ensure that the Scrape and main reedbed avoid tidal flooding even if the sea floods into North Marsh.
We've given our livestock access to higher ground, or moved them where this isn't possible - not just here at Minsmere but at all our Suffolk coast reserves. We're also moving machinery to higher ground.
We will be closing the paths to the beach at dusk tonight and checking the extent of flooding at first light tomorrow. If we need to close any parts of the reserve we'll let you know via Facebook and Twitter tomorrow morning.
We also advise avoiding Dingle Marshes or the coast road at North Warren in the morning as they are also very susceptible to flooding.
If you are planning on visiting Minsmere on Wednesday 11 December, please be aware that we've been advised of a power outage all day to allow for essential work to be completed by UK Power Networks. This will mean that the cafe will be closed all day and we'll be taking cash only payments in the shop and reception. We'll have toilet facilities available, and all the trails and hides will remain open as usual. Normal service will resume on Thursday 12 December.