Why Egremont can not have its sand beaches back, especially when it costs nothing?
One hundred years ago the sea wall at Vale Park (above) was only four feet high and fronted by the most beautiful dry sand beach. The construction of the King’s Parade in the 1930’s cut off the southerly supply of sand and beach levels consequently dropped by up to twelve feet. In the August 2012 edition of the Walrus I first suggested using free dredged sand to bring back the beach and reconnect the local community to the shore, so replicating the successful 1987 sand replenishment scheme at New Brighton. These schemes are becoming more commonplace – last year Colwyn Bay imported half a million tonnes of sand as a sea defence and such was its success in coping with last December’s storms that the scheme is to be extended. The social and economic effects have also been tremendous and a major factor in ‘talking up’ the town.
At Egremont the newly exposed rock and rubble shore was colonised by barnacles and mussels and designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for wading turnstones. Any artificial placing of sand and rock here would have to be a partnership with Natural England to benefit wildlife first and people second. On January 24th 2014 I attended a Site Meeting with three representatives of Natural England. The main purpose was to provide sufficient evidence that three ideas to improve wading bird habitats could be handed over to the experts for further research, two ideas involved more rocks, and one involved more sand.
Firstly, I showed photographic evidence that a trial sandstone rock field placed on the lower shore at Manor Lane had been colonised by barnacles and mussels in just nine weeks and was stable following the December 5th storms. Secondly I also suggested using isolated boulders to raise the crest of the Manor Lane groyne, thus enabling wading birds to roost undisturbed over the highest spring tides. This was viewed positively by Natural England and they will consider the ideas further.
A higher sand beach is the vital third ingredient of an integrated scheme connecting the two new rock habitats together. Photographic evidence and several bird counts showed that up to a quarter of local turnstones were feeding on the existing sand beach at Manor Lane on an incoming tide. A one metre higher ‘pocket’ sand beach here or at Egremont Ferry would allow feeding for longer periods.
Natural England raised concerns about bringing any sand back to Egremont Ferry as it could deflect a scour channel currently keeping mussel beds at the base of the sea wall free of sand. They also raised concerns that sand used to create a higher sand beach at Manor Lane could drift. In my opinion drifting sand would be minimal and any area of mussel beds threatened would be more than compensated by up to ten times the equivalent area of new rock fields laid lower down the shore.
Natural England finally suggested further studies of coastal processes and a two year programme of further bird monitoring was needed but did not undertake to do this. I believe I provided sufficient evidence on sand stability and wildlife value of existing sand beaches to warrant Natural England taking all three ideas (and not just the rock habitat proposals) to the next level. No individual has the resources or expertise to carry out the further sand studies required. Consequently I accept that my proposals to create higher sand beaches at Manor Lane and Egremont Ferry will not go ahead due to the concerns of Natural England – an essential willing partner to any potential scheme.
I explored every possibility to try and get more sand back to Egremont and restore some of the natural sand beaches that have existed here from end of the last Ice Age until just 50 years ago. I will only revisit the sand and rock proposals if the shore sands over naturally, but this may take a decade or longer. I will however provide evidence to Wirral Council that dredged sand could be used as a buffer to reduce water depth and therefore storm wave overtopping at Kings Parade. Wirral Council engineers may encounter similar environmental obstacles but it is important that all options for protecting our coasts are looked at.
I would like to thank the people of Egremont and New Brighton for your fantastic support and encouragement over the last eighteen months and hope the shore at Egremont improves naturally over time for the ultimate benefit of both people and wildlife.
John Lamb firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who would like the full copy of the Natural England advice on this subject and my full comments in response, can contact John Lamb at email@example.com