Storm surge second anniversary – the coastal nature reserves and their recovery

Thursday 3rd December 2015

Flood waters at Gibraltar PointFlood waters at Gibraltar Point

The storm surge on 5 December 2013 dramatically illustrated the dynamic nature of our coastal landscape. Coastal nature reserves are, by their very nature, environments that change as tides and winds deposit or erode sand, shingle and rock. These changes make them the most natural and fascinating of the county’s habitats.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm surge, things looked alarming on the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves at Far Ings in the north, round the coast at Donna Nook and down to Gibraltar Point. The impact was most obvious from the man-made features: buildings and sea defences were damaged and fences washed out. The habitat damage was more subtle with standing sea water on freshwater marshes, freshwater pools flooded and some impressive debris and strandlines left behind. While some of the floodwater drained away quickly, it persisted for weeks elsewhere.

Fences and basic infrastructure were quickly rebuilt. The cleaning and repair of the Far Ings visitor centre took longer but the centre is now fully open again and at Gibraltar Point the difficult decision was made to demolish the visitor centre. With funding from Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, and a grant from Government’s Coastal Communities Fund, the construction of the new visitor centre is now well underway. The whole building is raised on stilts to protect it from any future flooding.

The construction of the new visitor centre is progressing. The centre is due to open in Summer 2016

Nature was perhaps more resilient than the infrastructure of the nature reserves. Given space (which we don’t always have the privilege to provide) and time, nature will recover. Even the flooding of freshwater habitats isn’t necessarily a bleak picture but an opportunity to witness ecological changes to a habitat.

When flood waters receded from the Freshwater Meadow at Gibraltar Point, the resulting patches of bare mud colonised with silverweed. As the season progressed, the previous summer scene of 30,000 southern marsh orchids (right) was replaced with a changed environment, superficially dominated by sea club rush and sea couch grass. Amazingly in 2014, 424 southern marsh orchids flowered on the higher ridges of the marsh which were flooded to a lesser extent.

The surge tide caused widespread disruption to the breeding seals at Donna Nook and did widespread damage to the seal viewing area infrastructure. The pup mortality in 2013 rose to 16%, but was followed in 2014 with a rate of 5.6%, similar to ‘normal’ years. In 2014, a record number of 1,798 seal pups were born and there appears to be no impact on the long term well-being of the seal colony. However, not all species are robust. One big loss was of the healthy population of water voles in the Far Ings drain which has yet to be recolonised.

Some marsh orchids survived in the Freshwater Marsh at Gibraltar Point

The storm surge focussed attention nature reserves but also on the future of coastal defences and the role natural landscapes can play in flood defences; natural landscapes that can absorb the power of the sea, protecting towns and villages and that also provide space for wildlife.

For a more detail accounts of the recovery of the coastal nature reserves please visit the coastal flood pages

Read accounts of what happening on the night of 5 December 2013 and the following day at Donna Nook, Far Ings and Gibraltar Point.


Tagged with: Centenary & anniversaries, Living Landscapes, Donna Nook, Far Ings, Gibraltar Point