Anyone seen the return of the Un-Environment Agency around Wivenhoe?
Nope – thought not.
The threatened second mass culling of our unique North Essex natural wildlife habitat failed to materialise. I like to put it down the level of vocal resistance that Wivenhoe locals laid upon the EA after the first wave of destruction.
It was probably more likely however that the bully boys of the EA are just biding their time until returning with the bulldozers. My message to dog walkers, do-gooders and general hippy green sorts such as myself is: now is not a time to drop your guard, Comrades.
I did spot a somewhat muted attempt by the EA to carry out further damage down towards the Hythe early one morning at the start of the month. Handheld hedge style trimmers were in place. It was all rather prim and proper, and a far cry from the February mass destruction of the sea wall.
Meanwhile, correspondence has reached me between various Wivenhoe locals and Richard Houghton, the Flood Risk Management Manager at the EA. It is a detailed (and ultimately flawed) argument offered up by Richard.
Essentially he is saying that a Middle England style rolling green grass lawn is the stated aim in all of this EA vandalism. To protect our habitat then we need to cut it down:
“The sea walls in Essex protect over forty thousand properties and a significant number of hectares of agricultural land from the devastating impacts of tidal flooding.”
Um, so does that brute of a flood barrier that was put up as part of a project that would allow the natural sea walls to continue to grow and add some unique natural local character.
Richards outlines in the letters that I have seen the exact cost of cutting back all that is green and good around these parts. It is enough to (hopefully) make a penny pinching Blue Rinse sort resort to traditional Conservative concerns about the public purse:
“The works are being funded from our routine maintenance budget for the financial year 2011-12. The total maintenance budget for flood risk management in Essex this year is £3.8 million, and for the whole Anglian region, this figure is £12.4 million.”
Woh. That’s some routine figures that we are talking here. The refurbishment of the flood barrier that is scheduled for the summer of 2013 is being undertaken with a budget of £500,000.
And speaking of the science, Richard explains the white lab coat reasons behind the destruction:
“We are advised by the Flood Hazard Research Centre on standards of service for man made flood defences and follow their recommendations. A good cover of grass or short vegetation provides valuable surface protection for earth embankments. It reduces or prevents slope erosion and helps extend the time that an embankment can resist erosion from over-topping and breaching during extreme flood events.”
It also allows the nearby cows to continue the grazing along the sea wall, as has been the case of late. A herd of yer finest Hereford Heifers, stomping and s***ing along the sea wall, ‘aint exactly going to build up the defences.
Turning Wivenhoe into the bowling green of North Essex is something which does indeed bring to mind visions of men in white lab coats flapping around.
“Vermin and burrowing animals [cows?] are attracted to the habitat offered by scrub growth and low tree vegetation. Their actions can severely weaken man-made earth flood embankments that protect low lying properties such as those in and around Wivenhoe.”
Which begs the not unrelated question as to why the chuffers are we continuing to build properties such as these? At eighty years of age, Peter Green was wise enough to remind me during Wiv Chat that Cook’s Phase 3 is actually being built upon a flooded plain.
As for the “vermin and burrowing animals?” Wivenhoe News did an ACE investigative journo job in the last issue, becoming slightly obsessed, as one does, with badgers.
In a similar EA Q & A exercise, when pressed upon the badger issue (blimey) the response came back:
“No – there were no badgers found for the Wivenhoe work.”
Richard restates in the letters I have recently seen the guilt trip exercise of re-planting trees to make up for the vandalism:
“We have compensatory tree planting sites in Essex. Please see the documents on the enclosed disk.”
Back to Wivenhoe New once again, and we find that bugger all is planned for Wivenhoe:
“Q. Are any of the proposed sites for compensatory replanting located in the Wivenhoe area?
A: No. Wivenhoe Marsh has found to be unsuitable.”
Some superb questions have been directed at the EA in many of the letters of correspondence that I have now seen. When pressed to name an example of an Essex sea wall that has failed due to the presence of woody growth, Richard adds some historical (and flawed) perspective:
“Some Essex defences have been damaged due to heavy woody growth and needed repairing to ensure failures are prevented.”
And the last example of this was exactly when…?
“The last defence failures of the Essex Coast occurred during a surge tide in 1968. As the evidence is washed away when the wall breaches, we have no records as to the mode of failure of these sites.”
Which is all rather convenient, not to mention all rather pre-Wivenhoe Flood Barrier.
Areas where compensatory planting is taking place are then listed as Canvey Island, Althorne Lake, Brightlingsea East End Green, Burnham-on-Crouch, Little Oakley and Cattawade.
But not Wivenhoe. We are unique in oh so many ways. Which is why a singular, uniformed and one size fits all approach to flood management is so floored around the Colne estuary. What might work down the coast at Canvey bares bugger all resemblance to the changing coastline up towards North Essex.
If a rational, objective and scientific argument that is unique to Wivenhoe could be presented – and preferably before the bully boys move in again – then I believe that many Wivenhoe locals would be a bit more understanding when the bulldozers next turn up overnight.
Further dialogue with Richard Houghton is available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through a phone call on 01473 706720.
I’m off out badger hunting.