Andy Blowers suggests we need to find a phrase that captures the essence of the Essex Coast in the June 2021 column for Regional Life. What do you think?
The Essex coastline is remarkable for its length, at 350 miles the longest of any county in England, its more than thirty islands and its estuaries, like the Blackwater, extending the sea miles inland. Yet, unlike some other coastlands, it lacks an image to capture its integral quality and variety. At a time when its very character is threatened by Bradwell B, it is surely necessary to trumpet its unique qualities and defend them to the hilt.
The Essex coastlands, especially the area between the Colne and Crouch, are an understated country, unassuming, introspective and relatively unknown. The contemporary brand imaging that provides a kind of promotional image elsewhere, has passed us by. For instance, Cumbria has devised the concept of the ‘Energy Coast’ to consolidate its constellation of nuclear activities around Sellafield. In Wales, the idea of the ‘Energy Island’ of Anglesey, aspires to luring new nuclear development to Wylfa. This brash branding threatens, in some places, to supplant the traditional images of coastlands as places of nature, beauty and recreation.
Nowhere is this conflict between development and conservation more eloquent than in our neighbouring county, Suffolk where the image of the so-called ‘Nature Coast’ is pitted against the overbearing ‘progressive’ concept of the ‘Energy Coast’ adopted by the promoters of a new nuclear power station, Sizewell C. I have just participated in an open-floor hearing at the Sizewell C Examination by the National Infrastructure Planning Inspector. What struck me was the intensity and passion of opponents of the project in defence of their environment; their concern for what would be lost.
Essex – what is there to lose?
And what of Essex? What is to be lost, should Bradwell B come to pass? Well, first and foremost, will be the sense of openness and space, for this coast is a place where land, sea and sky meet. The vast East Anglian sky with endlessly changing weather, with the daily theatre of blue and grey sky, scudding clouds, tranquil and stormy, sometimes a golden sunrise or a glorious glowing sunset. Beneath is the restless sea, the ebb and flow of the tide revealing for a while the mud and gravel of the foreshore, draining and refilling the creeks, eroding and replenishing the mudflats and saltmarshes. This vast panorama, the essence of the Essex coastal scene, would be utterly destroyed by a massive nuclear complex, with cooling towers emitting plumes of water vapour to the sky, discharges polluting the waters and earthworks disrupting the land.
Secondly, there would be the loss or disruption of habitats, and wildlife on land and in the sea. The Blackwater and Dengie area fabulously rich and complex with saltmarshes, reedbeds, ancient grazing marshes and deciduous woodlands. Here is the overwintering home for 7% of the world’s iconic Brent Geese, that small and hardy traveller from the Siberian Arctic. That other famous inhabitant of these coastlands, the Colchester Native Oyster, never travels……until it reaches the tables of restaurants in London or Paris where I once consumed a platter of ‘Huitres, Colchester, les six’. This incredibly rich waterland, teeming with wildlife, would be seriously compromised, if not destroyed by a gigantic nuclear power station.
And, thirdly, there is the impact on the cultural heritage. The Dengie and Blackwater area has a rich archaeological heritage. The Romans were here and the remains of the sea fort at Othona survive. Nearby is the seventh century St. Peter’s Chapel, rough hewn but prominent in its isolation. Around are the grazing marshlands progressively recovered by the sea from the late Middle Ages. More recent are the remnants of the Second World War airfield from which missions were flown. And prominent, but now silent and clad in silver grey, is the bulk of Bradwell A, the legacy of a bygone nuclear age. A new nuclear project, jarring and discordant, would utterly destroy the wild, spiritual isolation and modest scale of the farthermost shores of the Dengie.
As the prospect of Bradwell B lumbers into view, it will be necessary to galvanise our communities with a sense of what would be lost and what must be retained. What coastal image would help to convey both a sense of community and a call to action? The idea of the ‘Saltmarsh Coast’ (as used by Visit Maldon) might be too limited. Maybe, ‘The Essex Heritage Coastlands’ would prove more inspiring and inclusive. Or, simply, ‘The Essex Marshlands’. These are just ideas. What do you think?
In the coming battle our sense of place and what matters will be at the heart of the conflict.
If you have any suggestions for names for our Essex Coastlands, send them in via email