The unstoppable sea

On Saturday, the day is warm with a southerly breeze and the oystercatchers gather on their familiar stretch of shoreline at the far end of the ness of shells that gives the place its name. Another spit near the blockhouse is filled with a tight knit flock of grey plover, dunlin and knot. On the path of broken shells, a pair of snow buntings appear from nowhere and are totally confiding as they crouch low and mill seeds in their bright orange beaks. As the tide reaches its high point, a peregrine flies in low over the saltmarsh out of the sun and pitches in at the roost of curlews that gather in the centre of the saltmarsh; they rise quickly and a few appear to jostle the falcon away to the west. The high tide follows its well ordered routine and provides no clue to the chaos of the following day.

On Sunday, the tide rises as before but the wader flocks are jittery and take off from the spit by the blockhouse and circle repeatedly; there is possibly a peregrine about again. The tide quickly rises beyond the level reached the day before and there is another hour or more to go. The waters creep around the ness and fan out across the saltmarsh between the spit and the sea wall and continue to climb higher. Soon the sea floods the saltmarsh as it is pushed up much higher than forecast by a unrelenting north westerly. The waters then breach the thin spit of shells between the blockhouse and the ness, first a trickle then a spate and the entire saltmarsh is transformed into a waterland.

The voles and water rails that live in the dense saltmarsh are forced to flee; the former are picked off by circling gulls and a kestrel and one of the latter is grabbed cruelly by the head by a quartering marsh harrier, but others swim and fly to safety; it is a short, mesmerising period of horrifying drama. The high tide almost reaches the blockhouse and the ness itself is nearly topped. The familiar wader roosts are abandoned to the water and flocks head inland and many appear confused and unsure as to where to go. The sky is filled with the calls of anxious waders and laughing gulls. Turnstones cling to the beach edge in small flocks or perch on the handful of groynes left exposed. A single redshank perches on the high wall that protects the hamlet. The sea wall is only just high enough to protect the old houses from destruction. Watching the unstoppable sea provides an inkling of the future effects of climate change; if the sea level is set to rise a metre or so over the coming decades, then this entire coastal landscape will be drowned. There are of course winners and losers; the flocks of Brent geese and ducks float unhurriedly over the saltmarsh and enjoy the rich pickings.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sherry Felix says:

    Teh snow buntings are sweet.

  2. Steve Parr says:

    They are always a winter surprise and very tame so the perfect subject for photography!

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