I was largely unaware of Environment Agency till 2009, then they tried to knock a hole in sea wall about 1/2 mile from my house.
I live in Kirby-le-Soken in Essex near the section of sea wall labelled B4a in the figure below. This figure is taken from EA’s SMP2 which outlines how they plan to maintain coastal defences for next 100 years, mainly by knocking them down it seems.
This area, known locally as ‘The Backwaters’ and on maps as Hamford Water, featured in Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water.
The sections of sea wall marked in yellow are scheduled for managed realignment (which means knocking down sea walls) as it is low lying land vulnerable to flooding. The section of seawall marked in green will be kept. Curiously during the tidal surge on 6 December 2013 the land behind sea wall at B4a was not flooded, yet the land to west was.
EA’s Original Planning Application
In December 2008 EA made a planning application to Tendring District Council(TDC) to make 2 breaches in the sea wall. Very surprisingly the planning officer approved these applications without referring them to planning committee on the basis that not many people would be affected.
A curious decision in face of future events.
One of these breaches was made, at the eastern end of B4a.
EA First Application To Divert Footpath 36
As there is a public footpath, footpath 36, running along the seawall at the location of the proposed breach at the western end of B4a, it was necessary for EA to make an application to divert the footpath. This was vigorously opposed and lead to a planning inquiry in autumn 2010. I attended this inquiry.
EA was represented by Merle Leeds who was managing this project.
In many ways the inquiry was a shambles. Within minutes of starting the inspector said she could halt the inquiry immediately as the map accompanying the application was not on the scale required by legislation.
As only a section of sea wall would be breached there was much discussion of whether footpath could be retained over the remaining wall. EA, TDC and Essex County Council(ECC) insisted this would not be possible.
As we shall see this insistence wouldn’t last long.
It emerged EA had already built a clay wall without planning permission as part of this scheme. Naturally they faced no sanction.
There was much discussion over whether the landowner, David Eagle, could or would grant a permissive right of way. The inspector stated if there was a permissive right of way, this would have a material influence on her decision.
Minutes before the inquiry was due to end EA stated there was a letter from David Eagle granting permissive right of way. The inspector was clearly annoyed, she was even more annoyed when she asked to see the letter and was told it wasn’t at the inquiry. The inspector proposed a site visit and then reconvening at 6pm to consider the letter.
When the inquiry reconvened EA eventually admitted the letter didn’t exist.
Listening to Merle’s evidence I formed the definite impression she thought a consultation was where EA informed residents what EA had decided to do. During a break I asked Merle what would have to happen for EA to change what they had decided to do. It seem to me this idea was so outside her experience it was incomprehensible.
The Inspectors Decision
The inspector said her decision might take 6 months but attendees received a decision in December 2010, the inspector declined to make the order, which meant the breach could not be made and the footpath would survive.
Yet Another Footpath Divertion Application
In January 2011 Merle Leeds wrote to villagers who had been at the inquiry saying
following the inspectors decision EA would still like to go ahead with the project could we let her know our views.
I think it is fair to say everyone who had opposed the application to move the footpath was extremely angry. Not least because EA’s new proposal was exactly what they had said would be impossible at the planning inquiry, keeping the footpath along the wall except for the breach.
Things were not helped by Merle being absent after sending this letter, so we got no response to our comments. When she replied to my email for some bizarre reason Merle replied to a different email address to the one I had emailed her from.
In addition for some reason Peter Fletcher, a planning officer at TDC, decided to have an informal consultation except he couched his letter in extremely formal terms saying we had to reply within 21 days.
Many people in the village wrote to EA and Merle besides myself. For example, Julia Haigh-Thomas, Derek Ladkin (both of Kirby Village Preservation Society) Robert Bucke (TDC Councillor) Peter Compton and others.
Various suggestions were made by different people regarding the length of the breach, whether it would be possible to have a bridge or pontoons, or pipes through the wall.
EA rejected all these suggestions in a bland sort of way
we’ve looked at this and it wouldn’t work
Answering in this way, not saying in detail why it wouldn’t work, meant it was hard to make any counter argument. It seemed this was the purpose of the bland replies and EA’s attitude was they knew best and we should just accept what they had chosen.
If all else failed they had their magic answer
We’ve modeled it on a computer.
I feel very strongly they only have themselves to blame for the amount of correspondence because of their vague incomplete answers.
Rising sea levels as projected by DEFRA were quoted as a reason for the project. I found publicly available sea level data at the website of Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) which indicated sea levels had actually been falling at Felixstowe. I sent this to Charles Beardall, area manager at EA. (I have since provided a comparison of DEFRA projections with actual observations of UK sea levels surprise surprise DEFRA projections are too high and more importantly there is no sign of projected acceleration in rate of sea level rise).
Charles replied with graphs of sea levels at Lowesoft and Southend. These graphs had lines on but no explanation of what the lines were.
In the mean time someone else had directed me to a EA webpage which had graphs of sea level rise at Newlyn, Sheerness, North Shields and Liverpool. This web page has since been removed, but the graph does appear in SMP2.
So I calculated the trend rate of sea level rise for the 7 locations and sent them to Charles Beardall around 9 June 2011. As the figures quoted by EA for Sheerness, North Shields and Liverpool were clearly wrong I expected a different response to the one I got. Charles replied to me on 23 June saying he had already answered questions about sea level rise and had nothing more to add. This was strange as 9 June was the first time Charles or I had ever quoted rates of sea level rise, so his reason was untrue.
In September EA sent me the spreadsheet used to calculate rates of sea level rise they quoted for Newlyn, Sheerness, North Shields and Liverpool this had a clear error in which lead to the result given being about double what it should have been. After only a few more emails, on 9 November, I got a reply from Charles Beardall showing how he’d calculated the SLR for Southend as 1.2mm/year (the same as I had quoted him in June) and Lowestoft as 2.8mm/year (close to the 2.4 mm/year I had quoted in June I suspect the difference was because I used monthly average data and Charles used annual). Charles was silent on the other locations.
Needless to say both the Lowestoft and Southend values were lower than the DEFRA2006 value of 4mm/year.
5 months of effort to get the point were EA agreed in at least 2 cases observations were lower than DEFRA projections.
In 2012 Charles Beardall directed my sea level queries to Bill Donovan. Bill emailed me on 20 August 2012 to say
The FOI requests we hold on the correctness or otherwise of the sea level rise graphs as presented in the draft SMP is something I will have to research, and I am on leave for the next two weeks so I will pursue this in the first week I return. Other than the spreadsheets and emails you have sent me I am not aware of any other information we hold on whether those graphs are correct or not, I suspect that we don’t have anything else on this, but I will investigate.
I’m still waiting for a reply.
So it took from June 2011 to August 2012 not to fully close this issue. Along the way EA Anglian agreed with my figures for Lowestoft and Southend in late 2011. By implication Bill Donovan agreed with the rest by sending me a paper from Professor Phillip Woodworth whose results agreed with mine within uncertainities.
So no evidence of long term acceleration and rates of sea level rise about ½ DEFRA projections even the ‘low’ 2009 version.
I raised questions about other matters related to SMP managed realignment and saltmarsh loss/recreation. These followed a similar convoluted path.
What’s All The Fuss About Saltmarsh
Around 1973 there was a plan to build an airport on Maplin Sands off south Essex. The airport was never built but there was a lot of preparatory work, including aerial photographs of much of Essex coast and a report, the ecology of Maplin Sands.
In 1988 another aerial survey was conducted Fiona Burd compared the 1973 and 1988 photographs and concluded saltmarsh there was 876.1ha in 1973 and 765.4ha in 1988 so saltmarsh was being lost at 7.4ha/year.
A further study was conducted by Nick Cooper in 1998 who found there was on 621.1 ha of saltmarsh so the rate of loss between 1988 and 1998 had doubled to 14.4ha/year.
Now lets go back to basics what’s a ha (hectare)? It’s a square 100 metres by 100 metres.
The maps used by Fiona Burd were at a scale 1:10560 whilst the 1988 maps had a scale of 1:5000. Yup that’s right they were comparing using maps with different scales. The snappily titled EnglishNature Report710 discusses some of the shortcomings.
Natural England conducted a saltmarsh survey in conjunction with University of Hull from 1997 to 2008. Remember Nick Cooper found 621.1 ha of saltmarsh in 1998, NE found 694.8 in 1997 and then 698.1 in 2007. EA got in on the act between 2006 and 2009 found 674.8 ha, EA’s saltmarsh survey report emerged in 2011.
This means far from losing saltmarsh NE found it had been growing back between 1998 and 2007.
What seems to me the most likely possibilities
- The Burd and Cooper surveys were inaccurate
- NE and EA surveys together give an indication of uncertainty, say at least +/- 20ha which means it is ridiculous to quote results to 1 decimal place.
- The assumption saltmarsh just dies of at a constant rate is rubbish. As many locals have observed it might die off for a while in one area then grow back in another.
DEFRA’s target for EA to recreate saltmarsh is based on Burd and Cooper surveys. In the report of their survey EA discuss whether they should talk to DEFRA about changing the target, as far as I know nothing has changed.
The reports of both EA and NE surveys were published in 2011. But Merle Leeds was still quoting a rate of saltmarsh loss of 14.4ha/year in 2011. Didn’t she know?
Anyone can examine saltmarsh loss by comparing pictures from Google Earth and previous aerial photographs. I shall post about this shortly.
What Causes Saltmarsh Loss
The DEFRA/EA/NE view is saltmarsh loss is caused by rising sea levels in a process called Coastal Squeeze.
I made an FOI request to NE for evidence to support Coastal Squeeze hypothesis and they sent me some links plus a copy of a paper by Ken Pye which discusses all sorts of other things, such as sulphides, lack of sediment.
Anyone can walk along a sea wall (I do often as I live around 1/2 mile from sea wall) and sea saltmarsh is riddled with holes like a swiss cheese. It is common knowledge saltmarsh is full of crabs as most weekends and school holidays you see familys out “crabbing”.
Richard and Rob appeared on Inside Out discussing saltmarsh at one point Richard puts his hand into a hole and pulls out a crab.
It seems to me Coastal Squeeze is a clear case of group think. If any of the following happen
- you are taught Coastal Squeeze as a fact as an undergraduate
- your PhD research is on Coastal Squeeze
- you work for an organisation which believes in Coastal Squeeze as policy
then you are probably going to believe in Coastal Squeeze uncritically, if only as a survival strategy.
EA and NE just brush off any attempt to discuss alternative theories of saltmarsh loss.
Towards the end of the Inside Out clip Trazar Astley-Reid of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Unit (part of Suffolk council) says saltmarsh erosion
could be due to crabs in some areas but not in all areas
I made a FOI request to Suffolk Council for any evidence to support Tara’s statement.
They didn’t have any.
I am shocked, shocked that people are just making things up off the top of their heads when they give statements to media.
At the end of the Inside Out clip a statement from EA is read out which goes something like
It wouldn’t be feasible to carry out detailed enough study to assess the sole effect of crabs
While other factors are considered, including crab burrowing, sea level rise remains our main focus as our responsibility is to respond to man made activities.
I thought EA’s responsibility was flood defence, but what do I know.
If EA’s responsibility really was just to respond to man made activities why didn’t they just say that during the recent flooding.
Nuffink do with us guv, not man made
Anglian Eastern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee
The minutes of the Anglian Eastern Transitional RFCC held on 15 July 2011, Iceni House, Ipswich record a presentation was made by Dr Chris Gibson of Natural England of new saltmarsh survey by NE which showed during the period 1997 to 2008 saltmarsh had grown back in Hamford Water.
The RFCC includes various local councillors. Some of them asked questions
|11.4||Cllr Borrett noted areas of accretion and asked if new sites, which are not attached to the existing saltmarsh, had been included in this.
Officers advised that they have surveyed the whole coastline to identify where the saltmarsh is.
|11.5||Members were asked to note that the policies for managed realignment within the Essex and South Suffolk SMP were not chosen to create habitat but because they were the most appropriate policy decision for that area.|
|11.9||Cllr Howard asked Officers if they would revisit the policies with
the Essex and South Suffolk SMP following the results of the study.
Officers advised that the policies would not be changed as they
had been agreed by the Elected Members Forum on the basis of the vulnerability of the defences. Officers advised that they would revise the Statement of Case elements of the SMP.
So knocking holes in sea walls (managed realignment) is not being done to create saltmarsh then. But EA didn’t come out and say this directly.
We shall later see there were some sites where managed realignment was proposed were the only reason was there was a willing landowner.
EA Does Touchy Feely
EA say they consult, dictate would be a better word. For example in August 2011 EA contacted Julia Haigh-Thomas
When our Area Manager, Charles Beardall wrote to you recently he promised that we would be engaging the local community fully over the coming months. With this in mind, he would like to meet with you and councillors from Frinton Town Council to discuss how it might be best to engage with people. The aim of the meeting is not to discuss the detail of the project but to explore how we can work better with the community and to use your experience, what works well with your community, to plan how we will achieve this.
So working better with the community involves calling a meeting but not allowing the community to discuss anything they wish to.
At the meeting Charles Beardall expressed his surprise at the very large turnout for a protest walk along sea wall. In case he was any doubt Brian Theedom, who helped organized the walk put it succinctly
Look no one here wants it
But EA still didn’t learn. It was agreed there would be further meetings for EA to discuss with community and Councillor Robert Bucke was nominated as contact point. On 18 October EA wrote to Robert Bucke
We have now arranged the following meetings for the public
(start and finish times tbc):
- Wednesday 16 November: an afternoon meeting at Baker Hall,followed by an evening meeting at the Church Hall
- Wednesday 23 November: an afternoon meeting at Baker Hall
We are keen to let local people know about these meetings as soon as possible to give them plenty of notice, and will write to our database of contacts shortly. Any suggestions you have for letting other members of the community know about the meetings would be appreciated.
Which prompted the following response
I am sorry to say we will not agree to those meetings. It was agreed with Dr. Beardall and Merle Leeds that dates and venues for meetings would be agreed with our own representatives before those meetings were booked, so your wish to re-consult has floundered at the first hurdle. We want all meetings to be held in Kirby le Soken, and during evening hours, however long that may take to arrange. If you merely propose to hold your meetings to suit yourselves, then clearly Dr. Beardall’s intent is not what he declared at the meeting which we all attended. I respectfully suggest that you immediately cancel the meetings which you have arranged, and revert to the agreed proposals.
Shortly after this Charles Beardall announced EA would not proceed with the scheme at the moment. Having wasted the best past of £1million. Money which could have been used for sea defences were there is actually erosion such as at the Naze, Holland-on-Sea and Seawick.
Didn’t they realize what the reaction would be after the 2010 planning inquiry?
Who Holds EA To Account
Ultimately EA is accountable to parliament, so a member of public can approach their mp or a member of government. But mps have many demands on their time and given the lengthy process required to get answers from EA few mps have the time or interest.
Douglas Carswell, mp for where I live, wrote a strong letter to Paul Leinster, EA CEO, asking about evidence for sea level rise and saltmarsh loss.
Charles Beardall replied on behalf of Paul Leinster, saying until August 2011 EA had been following DEFRA 2006 sea level guidelines. In August 2011 EA had been instructed to follow DEFRA2009 guidelines. In other words EA have no interest, and have been instructed to ignore, actual observations.
Also Charles quotes a rise of 73cm over next 100 years. As far as I know DEFRA2009
predictions only run to 2095 where there are 3 predictions
so were does the 73cm come from?
Charles Beardall said
we estimate 236 ha of saltmarsh had been lost since 1992 in Essex SMP area
Charles later wrote to me to agree there had been no survey in 1992, they had estimated using the assumed trend (e.g. between 1988 and 1998 surveys). But in 2011 EA report on EA saltmarsh survey it is stated there uncertainties, especially in early surveys, which might mean there is a 47 ha/year loss or 123 ha/year gain!
Note Charles Beardall gave this answer even though he was in possession of results from both NE and EA surveys.
I pointed out the deficiencies in Charles’ answer to Douglas but he did not pursue the matter. If mps will not hold EA to account this leaves EA free to judge themselves. EA’s response contains repeated claims of how they consult and take views from public and landowners into account but just because EA makes claims does not mean they are true. The experience of Kirby-le-Soken over proposed breach of footpath at Devereux Farm and my experience of trying to get information from EA suggests it is extremely difficult and can take months or years.
Imperative Reason of Overriding Public Importance
Some existing habitats are protected by international treaty (eg RAMSAR or SPA). In order to conduct development at a site protected by treaty there needs to be an IROPI. In principal this should be signed by the Secretary of State for Environment.
IROPIs to back the managed realignment of protect sites in Essex and South Suffolk SMP2 appeared in early 2012. I was intrigued to see there was an IROPI for the region of Kirby-le-Soken marked B4a in the map at top of the post.
This stuck me as strange as
- Charles Beardall had said the western breach would not proceed
- The eastern breach had already been made and we were told by EA, NE and local council an IROPI was not needed
Applying for exemption from a treaty when the exemption is supposed not to be necessary.
That’s a bit strange isn’t it.
What’s also strange is as far as I know the IROPIs were signed off by someone within EA.
That’s really bizarre, it’s a bit like being able to mark your own homework.
Willing Landowners Or Vulnerability To Erosion
It seemed to me the sea wall in area B4a was well protected from sea and not at all vulnerable to erosion. So I wrote to Charles Beardall to ask
EA have stated sites for managed realignment were chosen on basis of vulnerability to erosion/coastal processes
Will you please either
|a)||confirm you have evidence that sites chosen were vulnerable to erosion/coastal processes (specifically the sea wall from Quay Lane to Titchmarsh Marina)
AND SUPPLY A COPY OF THE EVIDENCE YOU HOLD WHICH LEAD YOU TO MAKE THIS CLAIM
|b)||deny you hold evidence that sites chosen were vulnerable to erosion/coastal processes (specifically the sea wall from Quay Lane to Titchmarsh Marina)
In which case will you explain why you made this claim
Charles Beardall responded
Section 11.9 attempted to capture the approach taken during SMP development to base decisions on likely future vulnerability/or existing defences. For completeness, it could have been clarified that there were two examples where landowners were supportive of progressing Managed Retreat for habitat creation purposes (Devereux Farm and Foulton Point). However, this was not stated at the meeting.’
And later elaborated
The sites at Devereux Farm and Foulton Hall were chosen for a policy of managed realignment because the relevant landowners were keen to progress alternative land management approaches other than Hold the Line. At Devereux Farm the landowner approached us in 2007 about the idea, which was prior to the commencement of this SMP. The majority of the Foulton Hall site has been identified as compensatory habitat for the Bathside Bay Port development should it proceed, hence the policy of managed realignment. These therefore are the two exceptions in our Area to the approach whereby managed realignment policies were chosen regarding vulnerability to coastal processes.
Therefore, to be clear, we are confirming that, for Quay Lane to Titchmarsh Marina, we have not used evidence of vulnerability to inform the policy for this frontage.
So it was just those 2 sites then?
This prompted me to write to Paul Leinster, EA CEO, on 16 July 2012 discussing SMP2 generally and my letter included 7 FOI requests. In summary these were
|1||I make a FOI/EIR request for all sites listed for managed realignment in Essex and South Suffolk SMP for each site please either|
|a)||confirm you have evidence that sites chosen were vulnerable to erosion/coastal processes
AND SUPPLY A COPY OF THE EVIDENCE YOU HOLD WHICH LEAD YOU TO MAKE THIS CLAIM
|b)||deny you hold evidence that sites chosen were vulnerable to erosion/coastal processes
In which case will you explain why you made this claim
|2||Where is the evidence to support the claim there will be greater loss of intertidal habitat in epoch 2 and 3, I make an FOI/EIR request that it is produced.|
|3||At Holland Haven (PDZ C2) the defences are under pressure and a landward realigment will create a more sustainable situation by reducing the pressure on defences and moving to a more natural coastal frontage. Please supply under FOI/EIR all evidence that supports the above statement re PDZ C2.|
|4||It appears Anglian region did not have anyone capable of calculating the slope of a graph and had to hire an external consultant. I should ask for you money back as the answer they gave was not only wrong, it was glaringly obviously wrong. I make an FOI/EIR request as to how much money was spent on hiring this consultant|
|5||Given Pye finds sedimentation rate to saltmarsh (not just creation, but its continued health and existence) has EA or NE conducted any sedimentation studies at proposed managed realignment sites and existing saltmarsh locations. I make an FOI/EIR request for details of any such surveys and the results if any surveys have taken place.|
|6||How about surveys of sulphides or other pollutants, again I make an FOI/EIR request for details of any such surveys and the results if any surveys have taken place.|
|7||I make a FOI/EIR request for the information EA holds which caused it to state it wouldn’t be feasible to carry out detailed enough study to assess the sole affect of crabs.|
According to legislation anyone receiving a FOI request must respond within 20 working days. So there should have been a response by 14 August.
On 3 September I got a reply from David Jordan COO of EA
I am sorry if your experience of our organisation has not met your expectations ….
There remains one further step that I will be asking my Area colleagues to take which is to examine a list of what I consider to be your Freedom of Information requests. They will be offering you a meeting to discuss and clarify requirements in order to bring anything they find to be current or outstanding to a conclusion during that meeting.
For the future, I do not believe it would be productive to engage in further discussions in connection with the SMP and therefore propose that this matter is concluded between you and the Environment Agency.
So more than 2 weeks after the FOI deadline EA are baldly stating they haven’t even got around to starting answering FOI requests.
Nothing happened so by 5 October, after advice from ICO, I emailed to David Jordan
Dear Environment Agency
below is a copy of my email of 16 September which I sent
having spoken to ICO regarding EA failure to respond to my FOI
requests within the time specified by legislation.
Also below is a reponse from Dianne Fogg where she states
David Jordan will respond by 1 October 2012/
It is now 5 October and I have received no response
let alone answers to my FOI/EIR requests.
I shall try one last time. I give you 13 days (not working days)
to provide complete answers to the FOI requests made
a) in my letter to Paul Leinster of 16 July 2012
b) in my email to Bill Donovan of
For the avoidance of doubt if I have not received an adequate response
by 17:00 on 20 October I shall take the matter to ICO.
David Jordan replied the same day saying
…. We remain happy to meet with you, however if you do not wish to take this opportunity, as previously outlined, we will not continue to engage further in written correspondence with you on previously raised matters or related ones. We will be happy to assist the ICO with details of our actions in relation to your requests should they contact us formally as a result of you choosing to raise this matter with them.
So guess what I did.
I’ll tell you about that in another post.
It Was Policy All The Time
In 2004 Sarah Nason of DEFRA wrote a paper
Curiously the way forward seemed to be to knock down sea defences (they uneconomic after all).
The joint DEFRA/EA document R&D Technical Report FD2017/TR also known as
which sets out explicit calculations which attempt to “prove” it will be cheaper to relocate treaty protected habitat sites, rather than maintain existing sea defences
These calculations leave out compensation to farmers whose land is flooded in form of NE stewardship awards. Apparently having the money paid by a different organisation is enough of a fig leaf to allow DEFRA and EA to state
As far as we know farmers receive no compenstation when their land is flooded
This spreadsheet lists NE Higher Level Stewardship agreements as of April 2011.
Row 6940 shows £300,452.20 awarded to JW and DF Eagle for having 27.03 ha flooded. This, I believe, is for the breach which was made at eastern end of B4a in Kirby le Soken.
The spreadsheet has about 7500 rows, a quick scan by eye suggests the lifetime costs is “unavailable” for about half. Adding up the rest comes to £ 782,958,456.62. So the total might reasonably expected to be about £1.5BILLION. Though not all HLS agreements are necessarily for having land flooded to create saltmarsh.
I wonder if this would alter the FD2017/TR calculations.
If that was not enough another DEFRA/EA document from 2002 Managed Realignment Review reports on workshops which discuss the results of managed realignment projects to date. Some quotes
Successful if PR is well managed.
There is a need to “drip feed” information to the public on sea level rise. It is not until the public understands the problems we all face (including financial) that we can change much.
Consultation: Costs of consultation are high… appeals and public inquiries add to the
cost and time.” Issues to do with public participation and information were seen
as a major constraint in their own right, and this is discussed further below.
This seems to me DEFRA/EA have been holding workshops to discuss how to manipulate public opinion so they can proceed with projects they’ve already decided on.
It seems there are a collection of government agencies (DEFRA, NE, EA) who use a veneer of pseudo science and public consultation to push through a project which they have decided on years ago.
Any suggestions they might be wrong, there might be problems is simply ignored.
It’s like The Men From The Ministry with one difference
It’s real life.