Gibraltar Point

Gibraltar Point warden Kevin Wilson explains what happened on the evening of Thursday 5 December 2013 and the following days:

"After storm-force westerlies brought down a number of old trees during Thursday, late afternoon saw our attention turned to the impending storm surge. Fortunately, the Environment Agency warning system enabled residents at Gibraltar Point to evacuate well before the predicted surge tide.

All the reserve's cattle and sheep had been moved to high parts of the dunes, and the flood barrier was closed at 4:30pm. Ninety minutes before high tide, I was stood at the flood barrier; the tide height already higher than the biggest tide I have ever witnessed in twenty years in the area.

Inevitably water bypassed the flood barrier and was streaming north up the Gibraltar Road towards various properties. The Visitor Centre and Wash Study Centre flooded half a metre high. Tidal water breached the west dunes in two places sending torrents of water well into the dunes and across the road.

The most frightening aspect of this incident though was the breaching of the sea bank "Bulldog Bank" across the northern part of the reserve. It was too dangerous to approach this area in the darkness but the noise of moving water was immense, probably thousands of cubic metres per minute.

The final tide height made nearly two metres above the predicted tide, which was already a high spring tide.

Water continued to move through the breaches, along the road and up to the golf course until around 11pm, some 3–4 hours after predicted tide peak.

At dawn the following morning, there was an unusual sense of calm. Surprisingly, the flood waters had already drained off most of the Gibraltar Road into the sandy substrate on each side. There was extensive flooding at the Visitor Centre and residential complex.

The most dramatic scene was the total inundation of the low-lying areas between the East and West Dunes for over 1km north of the breached sea wall right up through the golf course north of the reserve. The Freshwater Marsh had clearly been under at least two metres of water although maybe half of this height had drained down with water going back through the breached sea bank, leaving a strandline of flotsam and jetsam along the dune edge to mark the extreme height of the event.

The Bird Observatory building in the East Dunes had water up to the windows and even kit and books that had been moved to high shelving had been flooded. The bird hide at the Mere was flooded up to half its height and was not accessible for more than four days. The main pathways from the car parks were both extensively flooded, other footpaths, steps and bridges suffered significant damage, stock fencing was flattened and covered in flotsam.” 

The Gibraltar Point Visitor Centre and Point Café was ready for Christmas with decorations in place and bookings being taken for Christmas lunches. Events and children’s activities were being planned and bookings taken for school visits in 2014. With the flooding of the visitor centre, café and the educational rooms and accommodation in the Wash Study Centre, this was all put on hold.

Staff, here and on other reserves, have worked tirelessly to ensure that the activities of our centres can continue albeit in a reduced form. A catering unit in the main car park now provides refreshments, temporary toilets are in place and children’s activities temporarily taking place at Snipe Dales Country Park.  

Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve