The Suffolk coast around Dunwich and Sizewell has experienced major changes during the past 2000 years, with significant loss of land caused by marine erosion. Against a background of projected acceleration in sea level rise and storminess resulting from global climate change, concern has been expressed that present coastal defences may become unsustainable in the medium to longer term, and that the survival of internationally important wildlife habitats is under threat. This paper examines the past coastal evolution in the light of natural processes, and provides a discussion of future management options. Based on analysis of historical maps, charts, air photographs, and ground survey data, it is shown that rates of coastal erosion have actually been much lower in the last 50 years than historically, and at present there is little scientific evidence to support a case for large-scale managed realignment or abandonment of flood and coastal defences. However, in some areas, notably the very northern end of the Minsmere barrier and the middle part of the Dunwich-Walberswick barrier, local realignment and/or construction of stronger secondary flood defences are required to establish a coastal condition that is more in equilibrium with current processes, and to provide adequate protection against marine flooding even under present climatic and sea level conditions.
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Vol. 2006 • No. 223