Geography and Environment
We live here on the Eastern edge of an offshore West European island in the temperate Zone off the Northern Hemisphere.
Ten thousand years ago we were on the fringe of a great Delta which emptied the major rivers Trent, Ouse, Thames, Elbe, and Rhine northwards into the Norwegian sea, before the sea broke through the present Straits of Dover.
All these Lowlands were nowhere much above 400 feet above sea level and the channels were shallow.
Today we stand 32 feet above the present sea level, and the deepest spot between here and Holland is barely 110 feet; Nelson’s Column would stand well anywhere without wetting his feet! So there is a very fine margin between safety and flood disasters as whiteness several times a Century since records started.
Over seven hundred years ago, in 1285, one storm and one high tide nearly obliterated the town of Dunwich, 3 miles up the coast within sight of us here. The present coastline there is over 500 yards west of the line in those days (see map overleaf). A town of nearly 3000 souls was wiped off the map; at least 4 churches disappeared. Some locals say you can still hear their bells tolling in bad weather!
Around 400 years ago the Elisabeth poet John Donne wrote
No man is an island,
Entire of itself:
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less………………..…………..;
Any man’s death diminishes me;
Because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
And so we stand here, betwixt land and sea with, globally, many people tolling alarm bells on rising sea levels; hotter, drier summers; stormier, windier winters; with vegetation dwindling and animal species becoming extinct. Much of which we can already observe here at Warden’s.
Evidence of the effects of Climate Change are already around us. Most noticeably the loss of foreshore over the last 50 years amounts to over 70 yards.
Beyond the bottom of the “cliff” there used to be, from Sizewell Gap to the Ness, (see picture below) a long expanse of links type grass before the Benthills, beyond which was the high tide mark of a sandy beach, as can still be seen north of the Gap.
More importantly the Ness itself has diminished; offshore sandbanks regularly uncovered at Low Springs have gone. Their roller resistance is severely reduced, and as a result beach scour of 6 feet in NE and SE gales has become apparent. This beach scour actually caused a slippage of the “Cliff” slope over 2 stretches of 100 yards each, only 300 yards north of us here in2001, and again in 2006.
The higher offshore winds, becoming more frequent, have a serious detrimental effect on vegetation struggling to colonise the shingle. This cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to the salt laden winds. This latter effect can also be seen more often affecting fairly well established deciduous trees and shrubs as far as 1000 yards inland.
Salt burn on the eastern side of conifers can now be seen every year.
The stunting effect of win can also be seen on the adjacent paddocks to the S.W. of Wardens. These contain plantation of 6 different species of hardwoods, mostly English natives, with about 650 survivors of planting over the last 15 years. One can see thriving trees over 12 feet high not far from some live specimens showing minimal growth in the same period. The difference is not rabbits or deer, but shelter, mainly from wind but also from salt; a real example of micro climate effecting the natural appearance of our landscape. By studying all this we hope to achieve a beneficial impact on our environment.
Raising the awareness of the problems is perhaps the least we can do; practical ways os slowing or reversing the trends are more difficult, and probably painful.
However, here, we have reactivated on site a real and unique asset built into this wonderful building over a hundred years ago by its builder, Menteith Ogilvie; namely Rainwater harvesting. A Victorian idea, now revived by DEFRA as better alternative for farmers to harvesting food.
All the rain falling on our six thousand square feet of roof is ducted underground into a cistern holding around 2,250 gallons. Originally pumped by hand to water the garden we are by-passing some into barrels, from which it will released to plant roots through seepage hoses. We are putting in a wing generator and solar panels to make the entire system carbon emission free.
With average rainfall around 20 inches per annum we will harvest around 62,000 gallons of good water, unadulterated by human hand.
In addition to our earlier planting of shelter belt trees, now providing windcover and visual amenities, we have always adopted a non-pesticide, non-inorganic management of the grassland giving a significant increase in Biodiversity to our bit of the Suffolk Heritage Coast. We have now added a major feature in the Dipping Pond, which in its first few weeks has already attracted a lot new flora and fauna that could not otherwise survive in our own microclimate, which is declining into the Sub-Saharan bracket. But still only 2% of the rain falling on the UK is collected and distributed by the Water Companies through their pipes. Over 150 years ago the Victorian engineers piped water from the Lake District and Wales allowing enormous population and industrial growth in the midlands. The rainfall pattern has not changed, only our attitudes to husbanding natural resources. In 2007 we have no plans to build a National Water Grid for the U.K.
Not to us: ours comes from our own well, regularly inspected by the Health Authorities, only 35 feet below the surface.
We have a lot to learn and re-learn in solving our own man made problems, and we hope to make Warden’s a Centre to promote this within the context of the effect of individuals on our Environment and to propagate the means by which we can achieve a healthier balance between us and our surroundings!