Select Committee on Agriculture Sixth Report


Memorandum submitted by Mr Mark Blathwayt (F4)


  The Porlock Bay and Marsh Working Group comprises a broad membership including Exmoor National Park officers and members, and Porlock Parish Councillors. It relies on scientific information provided by the Environment Agency, English Nature and others. As owner and a qualifed chartered surveyor looking after part of Porlock Marsh and the Storm Beach, I am a member of that group.


  Crucial decisions made by local bodies depend on the presentation of the science being soundly based, clearly presented and fairly interpreted. In respect of Porlock Bay doubt remains in respect of all three.


  The Environment Agency puts no value on the conservation of breeding and nesting habitats of Redshank, Lapwing, Skylark, Reed Bunting. On the nearby Somerset Levels expenditure is justified by the so far unfulfilled hope of creating breeding habitats. At Porlock no sums were put on the conservation value of the existing nationally important breeding sites.


  Safety concerns in the local community exist. The South West Coast Path is often impassable. The impacts on the tourist economy are not understood. Recently two pet dogs were drowned in the maelstrom of water.


  Some local opinion feels that unfair obstacles were being placed to prevent local initiatives from being given a chance. The environmental impact assessment of using locally excavated sand gravel silt, pebble rock, cobble and boulder remains favourable. Under this plan, Wessex Water would transport and place the material to help heal the breach. Natural processes would then take over. Conservation of the Storm Beach by the local community remains a cost effective option. The Environment Agency, who by contrast strove to maintain an artificial shingle ridge against the wishes of the landowner, disagrees and now seem to prefer an almost do nothing approach. The Porlock Manor Estate's conservation proposal was at first supported by the Exmoor National Park until the Environment Agency advised against and remains a valid example of managed retreat.


  Professor Pethick of Newcastle University informed the group that a study into sediment supply from the cliffs to the West was needed. This decision was reversed without apparent reference to the group. The Porlock Manor Estate suggested that if man-made structures, such as the harbour groynes, were interfering with the natural working of the coastal process it would consider radical solutions.

  From the outset Porlock was regarded as a full scale test-bed for the concept of managed retreat. No houses would be lost—only farmland, but the importance of bird nesting and breeding habitats which would be lost was given a low priority.

  Three points must not be missed however:—

    (2)  Lessons learnt at Porlock may not be helpful elsewhere and vice versa. How "retreat" is managed will be different from place to place. At Porlock "retreat", if that is what is happening on Porlock Beach, may well be being caused by un-managed "advance" at Porlock Weir. "Naturally sustaining" is the goal, but how "natural" are systems allowed to be, before other human policy factors come into play.

  (3)  The Porlock Manor Estate advocates "managed retreat" working with nature. The Estate sees a fundamental distinction between allowing a "man-managed, man-made, shingle ridge" to deteriorate (the Environmental Agency's position) and identifying what cost effective or, in the Wessex Water option, cost free choices exist for working with nature to restore a storm beach and associated coastal grazing marsh, bird nesting areas, marshy and brackish lagoons and reed beds.

9 April 1998

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1998
Prepared 5 August 1998