The Environment Agency is celebrating an important milestone of a 15 year project to provide 7km of new sea defences inland from the coast to protect local communities together with the creation of a large nature reserve at Medmerry in West Sussex.
The £28m scheme involves the largest realignment of the open coast ever in the UK.
Today, one of the highest tides of the year is expected along the south coast and these conditions will be ideal to show how the new defences and nature reserve will work together to protect local communities from flooding. Environment Agency Chairman, Lord Chris Smith, and Chief Executive, Paul Leinster, will be joined by Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, and invited guests to officially unveil a plaque to celebrate the scheme.
The new defences at Medmerry significantly reduce the flood risk to nearly 350 homes, local infrastructure and the main road into Selsey. This groundbreaking project has also provided the opportunity to create more than 180 hectares of important new wildlife habitat which compensates for the loss of similar conservation areas in and around the Solent.
Now the flood defences are complete work is ongoing to finish the 10km of new footpaths, cycleways and bridleways that cross the site. There is still more to be done to fully complete the project and the timing of the work is dependent on the weather, but public access will be allowed as soon as possible. Once the project is fully complete, the RSPB will manage the wildlife habitats and access with the Environment Agency continuing to manage the flood defences.
David Rooke, Environment Agency Director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management, said: “With one in six people at risk of flooding in England, schemes such as Medmerry have a key role to play in protecting people and property. They also have an important role in the local economy by encouraging more visitors to the area. Creating large-scale habitat is vital to ensuring the survival of the country’s endangered species, improving water quality and reducing carbon.”
Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: “This ambitious project is a fantastic example of how we can create habitat for threatened wildlife, benefit local communities and deliver value for money for the taxpayer.
“The UK is internationally important for coastal wildlife, particularly the millions of migrating birds that rely on saltmarsh and mudflats. Saltmarsh is disappearing as a result of sea level rise.
“This project, which the Environment Agency has delivered, will become a thriving wildlife haven and a big draw for nature lovers. We should take confidence from the success here at Medmerry and help to secure our and nature’s future by investing in these sort of landscape scale projects.”
Medmerry was one of the stretches of coastline most at risk of flooding in southern England. Each year during coastal storms there was a high risk of the original shingle sea defences being breached with the potential for flooding to local areas. Following extensive consultation with the local community, the Environment Agency recommended managed realignment as the preferred option in its 2008 Pagham to East Head Coastal Defence Strategy.
Managed realignment involves building new defences inland from the coast and allowing a new intertidal area (land that is exposed at low tide and covered by the sea at high tide) to form seaward of the new defences.
Construction of the scheme started in October 2011. The 7km of new defences were built using 450,000 m3 of earth that was dug from within the site. By sourcing this material from the site over 40,000 lorry movements on the local road network were prevented. Also used were 60,000 tonnes of rock to build the structures at each end of the scheme. This rock was delivered by sea to minimise any impact on the local road network.
To maintain the drainage of the wider area, four new freshwater outfall structures were built, together with over 10km of new drainage ditches and ponds.
The scheme was developed with the help of a wide range of community representatives. The Medmerry Stakeholder Advisory Group (MStAG), which the Environment Agency established in 2009, has been essential in engaging with the community and has ensured there has been local input to the scheme design.
Press Release, November 4, 2013