Saturday, 16 February 2013

Mud, mud, glorious mud

It could be spring, but we all know it isn't that simple. Today the sun's shining, the wind's dropped and we're feeling fine. Just 3 days ago it was rather different and in another 3 days it probably will be again. However, talking to visitors it doesn't actually make that difference to most, and indeed there is a sizeable contingent who come to enjoy whatever North Norfolk chooses to throw at them.  This week it seems the dominant experience was not wind or sleet or even sun - but mud.

There is to be honest quite a bit of it about at the moment. But there's mud and mud.  There's the stuff that people find on their winter walks and which at the moment they are tending to slip and slide on and then there's the stuff in the creeks and on the marsh.

It isn't hard to understand why so many of us love these marginal areas.  Just as you don't need to be particularly religious to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of ancient churches, you don't need to have a boat to enjoy the North Norfolk creeks, and in both cases you would be in the majority. What is less easy to appreciate is that there is a substantial cost attached to managing places like Overy Staithe.  The fact that Cathedrals fall down if they are not cared for at considerable cost is more readily appreciated than the fact that these creeks would silt up and disappear if they were not cared for - also at considerable cost.

Traditionally, the groynes - these are the banks of stone you see in the creek at Overy - were maintained as a matter of tradition and routine in order to direct the currents and maximise the scouring effect of the  tide. With the decline of working boats this traditional pattern of care and maintenance passed into history and the channels become increasingly shallow.  Ultimately, without maintenance, the groynes would pass into history and so would any navigable channel. Life and landscape would change - not as a result of activity but of inactivity, and there would be more and more mud and less water. Whatever we think about the current state of play it is hard to find anything particularly good about such a change. The question is how even maintaining the status quo is to be funded.

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