Hurst Spit, Keyhaven and Lymington Marshes

Hurst Castle

In last year’s Newsletter we referred to repair work needed to restore Hurst Bank and the castle following storm damage which had, in part, undermined the foundations of the castle. In the months since then, the Local Authority and English Heritage have undertaken substantial reinforcement to ensure continued pedestrian access to the spit and castle and protect the salt marshes and wildfowl habitats. We understand that there is evidence of subsidence in the castle and that further work to the spit is under consideration.

During the year there has been more storm damage in the area and lately to the west of Milford where seawalls are damaged.

As a result of increasing storm damage, probably due to climate change, the Environment Agency in partnership with Hampshire and New Forest District Councils and Natural England, are exploring a sustainable future for the coastline between Hurst and Lymington, Solent Protection Society were invited, together with other local interest groups, to participate in the initial discussions and we hope to continue to be involved as the project develops. It is likely to be a lengthy and costly exercise with a cost of tens of millions of pounds being mentioned.

It is recognised that maintenance of the sea defences cannot continue as before, not least because local supplies of shingle are running out and the trend of the spit to move landwards will put increasing pressure on the salt marshes. To put this into context, it is estimated that within a hundred years, climate change and resultant sea level rise will result in high tide levels being in excess of one metre above today’s levels. Saltgrass Lane between Hurst and Keyhaven is now regularly covered at high tide and estimates suggest that by 2070 water depth may be increased by more than half a metre.

The Environment Agency’s initial presentation analysed the risks of doing nothing and letting nature take its course. These included flood risk to both residential and commercial property, the failure of existing seawalls within this decade, and damage to marine and salt marsh habitats. Habitat loss is currently estimated to be about one percent a year and birds, notably Terns and Mediterranean Gulls are in decline as a result of habitat loss and reduced sources of prey.

Work impacting on flood risk has so far concentrated on the repair and reinstatement of the spit but it seems that this alone will not be sufficient to preserve and protect this valuable marine environment. Expenditure will be considerable, as indicated above, but without it this part of the Solent coastline will change radically and permanently. We must hope that decisions can be made and agreed and work started before a repeat of the storm damage already seen this century.