James Robinson, Regional Director Eastern England

This piece first appeared in the Eastern Daily Press on 31st January 2018.


What will you be doing this Valentine’s Day? Romantic dinner? Trip to Paris? Buying a last-minute gift? Indulging in a takeaway with friends?

Chances are, you’re not going to be dwelling on the state of the planet. It’s not a topic that generally comes up on the most romantic day of the year. More likely you’ll be thinking about your loved ones: the time spent together, the most meaningful ways to show your appreciation for each other.

We know how to show our love for our nearest and dearest, but how do we show our love for places that shape us? For that nature that we are part of? For the water, air and soil that give us life? For the landscapes that define us?

Recently I visited one of the most important landscapes here in the east, a landscape I feel very passionate about. Halvergate marshes lies in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, hugging the Acle Straight from both sides for miles. It’s an engineered landscape which now holds the title of region’s largest grazing marsh; a source of freshwater, livelihood, and a wealth of wildlife.

All of which is threatened by the impacts of climate change. Sea levels are rising and the regularity of tidal surges is predicted to increase, having major consequences on inland landscapes, like Halvergate.

The River Bure is a source of freshwater for Halvergate marshes. However, rising sea levels and rising high tides are pushing more and more saltwater down the River Bure, a problem exacerbated by reduced rainfall, another predicted consequence of a changing climate in the east. Less rainfall means less water to hold back the salt, resulting in fewer opportunities to move freshwater from the river onto the marshes during spring and summer.

A supply of freshwater is needed throughout the summer at Halvergate to provide a home for rare and important freshwater plants and invertebrates, as well as the essential ditch systems which act as ‘wet fencing’ and allow traditional grazing – a practice enshrined in the culture of the Broads - to continue.

It goes without saying that overcoming climate-induced threats is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. It starts with dedication, passion, commitment, and imagination – all the ingredients for love, which create a solution.

Working with the Water Management Alliance on behalf of the Broads Internal Drainage Board, local landowners, and with funding from the Environment Agency, together we have created a scheme that will ensure freshwater is always available in this important landscape. A new four-kilometre watercourse – known as a ‘Higher Level Carrier’ - leading from the River Bure will allow freshwater to be stored and used for farming and wildlife.

It will be made from clay and enable about 60,000 cubic metres of freshwater to be stored at any time. When freshwater is available (when there is no salt adjacent to the inlet sluice on the River Bure) it allows a lot more water to be let in and stored ready for times when we can’t let more water in because it’s too salty. This will offer a reliable supply of freshwater, especially in times of drought or flood, supporting and protecting freshwater species and wet grazing practices and ultimately allowing the marshes to adapt to climate change in the future. As if the project couldn’t be any more innovative, the clay used to form the carrier has been sourced from RSPB-managed fields to create shallow lagoons for nesting waders. A combination of this shallow-flooded wetland and a series of natural islands is perfect for long-legged birds like crakes, herons, spoonbills and wading species such as black-winged stilts, which are expected to move to the UK as climate change makes their current habitat unsuitable.

If we are to keep special places like Halvergate marshes safe and sound, we need to act now, so that habitats have time to develop and become suitable. This will require more innovative work from us, other conservation organisations and governments. However, it also begins with us.

To influence governments, businesses and organisations we need to start the conversation. We need to show our dedication, passion, commitment and imagination in saving places, people and species from climate change that are important to us. We need to show the love.

So this Valentine’s Day, take some time to think about the people and places that are dear to you. Join in with the Climate Coalition’s ‘Show the Love’ campaign. Make a green heart. Wear it with pride. Start a conversation. Show the world that you care.