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Environmental disaster as Southend's foreshore retreats
7:00am Friday 5th October 2012 in News
SOUTHEND’S treasured foreshore is rapidly disappearing - and no one appears to know why.
Experts from Southend Council and the Environment Agency are on the verge of panic as the town’s iconic mudflats are stripped from the shore.
In just the last six months, an estimated 2ft of silt and sediment - one of the richest habitats on the planet - has vanished into the estuary waters.
The rapid erosion has threatened the area’s status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as the livelihoods of the fishing community and the structural integrity of Southend’s landmark pier and coastal defences.
Some believe it could even undermine the relatively fragile base of sediment and clay upon which Canvey sits. David Norman, who first became a Labour councillor in the 1960s and grew up in Leigh, said: “The scale of the change is absolutely frightening.
“It is now like a lunar landscape out there. For as long as I can remember, the mudflats have been there.
“Now they are simply disappearing.”
The depth of the mud which covered the estuary has naturally varied over the years as a result of the prevailing weather conditions.
But since the start of the spring, experts have noticed a consistent decline which has now left many parts of the north bank of the Thames completely bare. Some of the worst erosion has been pinpointed between Thorpe Bay and Leigh.
The mudflats, which have been compared to the rainforest floor in terms of the amount of wildlife they support, are a thriving habitat for insects, cockles and wading birds.
Forming a vital link in the food chain, they also support fish, such as the Dover sole, which are a valuable catch for the south Essex fishing industry.
The Environment Agency and the council have launched a joint investigation to try to find out what has happened to the foreshore, and whether the erosion can be stopped before it goes any further.
But they admit they are baffled by the speed of the decline. Steve Bewers, of the Environment Agency, said: “This year has seen a significant loss of mudflats along the north bank of the estuary.
“We would welcome information as to when the mudflats started to decrease, to see whether it coincided with any particular event, such as the rather uncharacteristic weather conditions which have occurred over recent months.”