A £1.8 million sea defence project to protect Lincolnshire homes, businesses and farmland from future flooding has been completed.
The project will help to prevent homes in the Boston and Skegness areas from flooding destruction as seen in both the 2013 and 1953 floods.
And it’s good news for the local wildlife too - as the project has also created new nature habitat in the process.
Over 3,400 hectares of prime grade one farmland, and 460 domestic and industrial properties in coastal Lincolnshire are better protected, following the completion of the project, which has involving the co-ordinated efforts of flood risk management authorities and local landowners.
A partnership project led by Witham Fourth District Internal Drainage Board (W4IDB) has raised and re-profiled sea defences in an area of the Wash shoreline previously viewed as potentially catastrophic - particularly if ever there were a repeat of the devastating 1953 flood when waters reached as far as 2km inland,
The board says this has ‘improved the standard of protection for both properties and farmland, whilst creating additional wildlife habitat’.
An Environment Agency (EA) review back in 2012 had identified a 5km stretch of The Wash sea defences near Wrangle in the borough of Boston, as particularly vulnerable, with the lowest sea banks along the Wash frontage, and only a single line of defence.
A spokesman for the EA said: “The project involved re-profiling the sea banks and raising them to over 7 metres high, with a slope leading to a soke dyke to cope with future over-topping. The project created a maintenance strip behind the bank and larger soke dykes. During high tides, these accommodate the water that permeates up through the ground and during heavy rainfall, they enable surplus water to flow to the W4IDB managed pumping stations.
“It was the tidal surge of December 2013, again breaching the main line of defence just as it had 60 years earlier, that galvanised farmers and landowners to push for action. W4IDB were approached by the EA to lead on the project and a Project Board was set up with partner representatives from Lincolnshire County Council (LCC), the landowners, EA and Natural England to deliver the project.
“Witham Fourth District IDB agreed to be the lead risk management authority (RMA) on the project as they were able to deliver efficiencies using local landowner agreements and local contractors.
“This partnership approach, combined with the number of households and businesses protected, including significant industrial units such as pack-houses, enabled an application of support through DEFRA and EU funding, with a combined total of almost £1.8 million secured to complete the works.”
Peter Bateson, chief executive of Witham Fourth District IDB, explains “This was a comprehensive project that followed a major survey in 2016 to identify the existing profile of the banks, collect environmental information and to assess the full scope of the works.
“Crucially, the programme required the buy-in of all involved, particularly landowners and businesses, as well as the local community. We also were very conscious of our environmental commitments, and liaised closely with Natural England, RSPB and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.”
Indeed, as well as creating much enhanced sea defences, the Wrangle Sea Banks project has enabled at least 10 hectares of habitat creation behind the banks including grassland and semi-wetland habitats.
“Landowners have contributed around 40 linear metres of farmland to provide the spoil to re-profile the sea banks. This equates to a considerable donation of land, from farmers, to be converted to non-farm use and habitat gain,” adds Mr Bateson.
It was a highly sensitive project, as the area sits alongside a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It was crucial to tally the environmental considerations, with the development and design of the bank, while retaining as much of the important agricultural land as possible for grazing and food production.
“The Project Board held monthly meetings during the planning stages, that included making plans for the management of the cattle that graze the salt marsh, and preserving the organic pasture behind the existing sea bank,” explains Mr Bateson.
It was this joined up approach, and the buy-in from landowners such as Hugh Drake, that enabled the project to proceed. Mr Drake, who farms some 800 acres on the northern edge of the Wrangle project, growing wheat, vining peas, brassicas and potatoes, was one of the landowners contributing farmland.
He commented: “The government’s recognition of the vulnerability of the sea-defences on the western side of the Wash has been a great step forward and follows the damage done by the events of December 2013.
“In those parts of the sea-banks where there is only a single line of defence the risks of flood damage to valuable farmland, residents and property, as well as the substantial business enterprises in the area, have now been addressed and the Wrangle project is a step in the right direction to improve the resilience of the sea-defence.”
Mr Drake continues, “Farmers and landowners have made a very significant contribution in kind to the project by sacrificing their land, which has been estimated at some 50 acres of some of the best food-producing land in the country.
“It will be an indication of the government’s commitment to environmental issues, when the environmental enhancements of the whole scheme are properly recognised and form part of agriculture’s contribution to current and future Stewardship Schemes.”
Adding to Mr Drake’s comments, Mark Robinson, senior coastal advisor for the Environment Agency, said:
“This project has been made possible through excellent partnership working between the IDB, the County Council and the Environment Agency. We are pleased that we’ve been able to help support and deliver the project through a DEFRA Grant in Aid contribution of £1.30M, providing the match funding to allow Lincolnshire County Council to secure £0.5m of ERDF growth funding.
“Whilst these sea banks play a very significant role in reducing flood risk to 438 properties in the local community, we would like to remind residents that we can never eliminate the risk of flooding completely. Therefore, we urge people to check if they are at risk of flooding and sign up for flood warnings by visiting www.gov.uk/flood or by calling 0345 988 1188.”
Coun Colin Davie of Lincolnshire County Council said: “I am delighted to see the successful completion of this latest major scheme. Lincolnshire’s flood risk and water partnership was put together six years ago, to promote exactly this kind of co-ordinated working, where each organisation contributes its own specialism to achieve more for our communities and businesses than would have happened were we all working alone.
“In this case, using £1.3m of DEFRA grant funding we have secured an additional half a million pounds of external investment that would otherwise have gone somewhere else. I look forward to our partnership continuing to attract more external funding to help secure a stronger economic future for our county.”
As the project completed at the end of September 2018, this major centre for food production and processing has never been better defended against the risk of coastal and river flooding, helping to protect the people, towns, business and farmers in this part of the Fens.”
Mr Bateson added: “This was the first major improvement to coastal flood defences in the area for over 30 years, and by working in partnership, W4IDB has been able to help protect farmland and residents for future generations, while remaining sympathetic to the environmental responsibilities in this unique area.”