Blackwater Coast


Blackwater

Nicholas Crane and a team of experts explore Britain's coastline and the relationship between people and the sea. They visit the Blackwater Estuary in Essex.


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The Thames barrier is a direct result of the 1953 floods.

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It's one of the largest and most expensive defences of all,

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designed to protect London from surge tides until 2030.

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It's absolutely gigantic.

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That's what it takes to stop

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the capital city drowning.

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Beautiful too. It's easy to forget how utilitarian engineering can look absolutely stunning.

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With the high tide mark creeping up by 60cms a century, even this has its limitations.

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Engineers are looking at extending its use until 2100 by raising the estuary walls by half a metre.

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And another option, for the distant future,

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is an even bigger barrier further out into the estuary.

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There'll always be pressure to defend the nation's capital.

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But, outside London, the costs are less easy to justify.

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Continuously replacing rock armour is like signing away a blank cheque to the sea.

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So, in the Black Water Estuary, they're thinking about coastal defence in a whole new way.

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I'm cutting across the fields at Abbotts Hall Farm in Essex

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to look at an unconventional approach to coastal defence.

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Just down here, on the edge of the estuary,

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they're cutting holes in the sea wall.

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Punching through the old defences seems like madness

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but it's like opening a safety valve to take the pressure of erosion out of the estuary.

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This allows the water inland to create inter-tidal salt marshes -

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nature's defence against the power of the sea.

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What these salt marshes do,

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they take the energy out of the water. The currents slow down

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as they move through creek networks and the plants jut into the water

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and take the wave energy out of the wave.

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Repairing old defences is a costly job.

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In the long run, creating man-made salt marshes can be cheaper.

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But acres of farmland have to be given over to the buffer zone, so the scheme's not without critics.

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In people's minds it probably does feel like we're giving up.

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But we're not. We're trying to work with nature,

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so when we have another 1953-type event, we're prepared for it.

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We have areas like this for water to be stored in terms of the flooding.

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You're talking about a coastline that's changing all the time,

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a map of the UK that could look quite different in 100 years.

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It's interesting, the word "coastline".

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I think what happened was, you know, we mapped our coastline

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and put a line on it and it's a snapshot of what it looked like when that person mapped that coast.

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So it's a very hard perception to change in people's minds

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that it isn't fixed, it's a very dynamic place.

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Coastlines are probably the most dynamic environments in the UK

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and it's constantly changing.

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It may be a bitter pill to swallow

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but we can't realistically protect every inch of our coastline.

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Concrete walls destroy the sense of wonder that draws us to the coast.

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But, without them, we face a precarious future

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in the face of advancing seas.

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