Monday, 6 April 2009

Discussing the Shore at Shores

I attended a meeting at the Shores Centre in Withernsea on Friday about coastal erosion and offshore dredging. Local residents feel that the dredging is speeding up coastal erosion, so Graham Stuart MP had asked several aggregate producers to be there with their charts and exhibits – which included woolly mammoth tusks and other fossils. About 60 people turned out on a blustery cold evening.

The aggregates representatives explained the high demand for and the origins of the sands and gravels. Residents said that the beaches and cliffs were rapidly disappearing. Reference was made to the village of Hallsands in Devon which was completely swept away after dredging had removed a gravel bank out at sea. A local fisherman, who spends 8 hours a day off Spurn, described how dredging ‘left everything dead – just broken starfish.’ The silt kills shellfish in the pots. He said the sands and gravels are nurseries for shellfish. East coast fishermen are getting together as the dredging is putting them out of business.

Bill Rigby from Marinet gave an impassioned speech about the effects of aggregate removal on the marine ecosystem. He said that the whole food chain is affected and the consequences are unknown as the areas being dredged are the ancient stony river beds which have sheltered marine life for thousands of years. They cannot ever fully recover.

Prof Mike Cowling, a representative of the Crown Estate, was also present. He said that the coast has been receding for thousands of years and what we see is just a small snapshot in time. A local town councillor retorted, ‘But it’s our moment in time’. The Crown Estate receives a royalty for every tonne dredged (£17.7 million in 07/08). Although much of this revenue goes to the Treasury, many people seemed to feel that it was not surprising that Prof Cowling saw no problem with the dredging. Professor Mike Elliott of the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies at Hull University also seemed to feel that observed changes were only natural.

My contribution was to point out that we all have a responsibility to reduce the demand for gravel and sand. We can stop putting gravel on our gardens for a start. Grass or vegetables are better for averting flooding, better on the eye and the purse. We can live without more airport runways and roads. We can relearn to build our houses with renewable materials such as straw bales – which are cheap to build and have excellent insulation value. We need a joined up approach to coastal management which involves listening to local people. We need Green policies which are not based on ‘growth’ but on life: policies which are not swayed by vested interests, corporations, or funding for weapons and wars.

Shan Oakes


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