A £300,000 emergency fund to save nature reserves across the East following last week’s tidal surge is focusing its resources in Snettisham.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Snettisham site was one of the charity’s worst-hit reserves in the devastating storms last Thursday night.
Concrete access paths used by the public to walk around the reserve were completely stripped back by the floods – forcing the majority of the site to close to visitors for the “foreseeable future”.
One hide where birdwatchers sat to watch wildlife was also washed away with the rising tide, while another was battered beyond repair.
RSPB visitor officer Pernille Egeberg said the site was “unrecogisable” from before, with swathes of the reserve now submerged under water.
She said: “When we were assessing the damage we didn’t quite know what we were looking at, or what point was where, as the landscape had changed so dramatically.
“It will never be the same again.”
She said the site’s four pits remain under sea water, affecting wading birds who used them to roost during high tides and also compromising the freshwater wildlife.
The RSPB has now launched a £300,000 fighting fund to rebuild the reserve’s habitat and others affected across the East.
It said Snettisham was the worst hit, along with Havergate Island and Dingle Marshes on the Suffolk coast.
The RSPB site in Titchwell was saved from “complete devastation” after its £1.2 million flood defences installed in 2010 held firm.
Damage was still caused to the boardwalk from the reserve path to the beach, and sand dunes were flattened, but the reserve is otherwise open.
RSPB warden Paul Eele said the priority for Snettisham was to continue making the reserve safe by clearing away debris, before working out how to drain water from the flooded pits.
He said: “Our biggest challenge is to reduce the water levels. We have got sluices but they are under a significant amount of water themselves and we can’t access them.
“We will be liaising with the Environment Agency and it may well involve some drastic measures such as digging a big hole through the bank to drain the water away. Following on from that we can start to get our head around things and see the full extent of the damage. We are talking months of work ahead.”
A car park at Snettisham, with direct access to the Rotary hide, was re-opened yesterday. It is not known when the rest of the site will re-open.
Rob Lucking, RSPB area manager, said: “The devastation to some of our nature reserves has been immense, and we’re still not sure of the full impact. But it will take a lot of hard work and resources to put it right and restore these homes for nature. Insurance covers some of the costs of the damaged hides, but not the cost of repairing habitats.
“We are still assessing the damage, but estimate that the cost of repairs could be many hundreds of thousands of pounds. That is why we’re setting up an emergency fund – a pot of money that we can use to get our nature reserves back into shape and repair the damage caused.”
Anyone who would like to make a donation can visit: www.rsbp.org.uk/stormappeal