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‘Thousands of people will lose their homes, and places we love will be lost to the seas’

In our weekly Friday Politics feature, Green Party councillor Pallavi Devulapalli chats to climate activist Dr Charlie Gardner...

Parts of West Norfolk have always been vulnerable to flooding due to being below sea level and having a lovely long coastline.

We stay dry mainly thanks to the complicated system of drains that have been built and maintained for hundreds of years, mostly overseen by the Internal Drainage Boards today, and to our coastal food defences.

Cllr Pallavi Devulapalli with Dr Charlie Gardner in Downham
Cllr Pallavi Devulapalli with Dr Charlie Gardner in Downham

As a councillor, I am fortunate enough to be a member of one of the drainage boards. It’s been really interesting learning about the work put in by officers, landowners and workers to keep the land dry.

The machinery used is large, heavy and rather expensive, and the work can be lonely and hard. The newer pumps are so clever they don’t harm wildlife as they have special filters which allow eels and fish to pass through unharmed.

The pumps need to be checked regularly to ensure they are maintained and working as they should.

One of the topics of discussion at the last council meeting was the issue of maintenance of the Heacham shingle ridge, for which a management plan had been agreed by the previous administration, who have now decided they wish to oppose it after finding themselves in the opposition.

Major decisions will soon be made by the environment agency and central government, over whether to keep trying to keep the sea out at Heacham beyond the shingle ridge, or to let it breach it in a policy of ‘managed realignment’ of this section of the Wash coastline.

The unfortunate fact is building defences will get more and more expensive as the seas rise and storms get worse, so if we want to save our wonderful coastal places we only have one option, and that’s to slow climate change as much as we can by asking government to take action to help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions locally, nationally and ultimately, worldwide.

Government decisions like the opening of the massive new Rosebank oil field in the North Sea are a kick in the teeth for us and send the wrong signal to the world. How can our government pretend to care for us if they do not take meaningful action to protect our homes and our futures?

Many people are concerned about this lack of action from government. One such person is Dr Charlie Gardner, a conservation scientist who lives in West Norfolk. Charlie decided to do something to raise awareness of sea level rises - he set off on September 24, on an arduous 15-day, 180-mile walk from Cambridge to Norwich on land that is almost entirely threatened by sea level rises.

I caught up with Charlie when he stopped overnight in Downham. He said: “With rising sea levels, much of eastern England may be unimaginably transformed before our children’s eyes. Thousands of people will lose their homes, and places we love will be lost to the seas. Yet no-one is talking about it. People I met on my walk feel completely abandoned by the government - they feel scared for their futures and want the government to take action.

“Almost everyone knew all about the risk to our coasts and knew that it was made worse by climate change. I got the feeling that residents want to help but don’t really know what they can do.”

As a starting point, here’s a list of things we can all do. On Dr Gardner’s website walkinginwater.com (see the ‘what you can do’ page) walkinginwater.com/what-you-can-do.

Lobbying councillors, MPs and parliament, talking to friends and neighbours, raising awareness of the impacts of climate change and voting Green or ‘greener’, are the most effective actions we can take

We have several active voluntary organisations we can join to make our voices louder - including KLimate Concern, Friends of the Earth, Nature Volunteers Network, RSPB, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the Civic Society, Extinction Rebellion and others.

If many more of us did join together, the hope is that that would create such a force for change that it would be unstoppable.

The choice is simple - either we step up in defence of our communities and the places we love, or we risk losing them forever.

At the Environment and Communities panel in October we had an update on the various home energy efficiency schemes that are being run by the council. There is a broad range of schemes available to choose from, so if anyone is living in a poorly insulated home, it’s well worth getting in touch with the energy efficiency officer at the borough council.

Insulating our homes is the best thing we can do for our budgets and for the planet.

Better insulated homes are warmer and need less fossil fuels to be burnt, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

They have already delivered schemes worth thousands of pounds and are keen to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, so do get in touch if interested.

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