A few months after writing about a development at Otmoor, Fiona Reynolds visits the beautiful Suffolk coast — and can't quite believe how the proposed new work will tear up this idyllic landscape.
My piece about Otmoor and the threat to lovely countryside between Oxford and Cambridge drew an amazing response — thank you and I hope someone’s listening! That countryside is vulnerable because it’s not designated, but that’s not the case far to the east, where the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB is threatened by massive infrastructure projects that make my battles of the 1980s seem like skirmishes.
Like me, you may know there are plans for a third nuclear power station at Sizewell, but I hadn’t appreciated how much more this rare heathland coast is being asked to take.
In fact, it’s more accurate to speak of Sizewell C and D, because there are two proposed reactors, which will require nearly 750 acres of land, almost all within the AONB, sites to dump spoil, hold materials and provide temporary housing for a workforce of 2,400 construction workers, plus a massive new ‘relief’ road, which promises to bring anything but relief to those affected when it carries potentially up to 1,500 HGVs every day.
I love the Suffolk coast, which, for me, means huge skies, the evocative memory of drowned church bells at Dunwich, Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, the shingle beaches with their swirling pebbles and the quiet remoteness of Minsmere, where you can lose yourself between the head-high reed beds and scented heathland. My decision to walk there was driven by wanting my ‘fix’, as well as seeing where the proposed development would go.
“Sizewell A is box-like, grey, hunching among trees; B is a graceful sphere, almost invisible against the slate-coloured sky. We don’t love them, we agree, but they have, in their way, become part of life here. It’s the hugeness of the new proposals that makes us shudder”
We begin at The Eel’s Foot in Eastbridge, whose welcoming hosts offer us their ‘special’ — a smoked-fish rarebit, worth a journey in its own right. We set off walking south towards Leiston’s Old Abbey Farm, before turning coastward along the Sandlings Walk.
We’re shocked when, within a few hundred yards and still distant from the existing plant, we learn that the quiet fields around us are all part of the plan. Quarries here, a holding ground for spoil heaps up to 115ft high there; a natural, reed-fringed pool gobbled up, a huge field designated for the multi-storey workers’ campus. And, scything through it all, a new access road that will cut a swathe through Sizewell Marshes SSSI.
We continue towards the existing reactors, our path now sandy, winding through graceful, mature pines. The peace and silence feel suddenly fragile, ephemeral.
Sizewell A is box-like, grey, hunching among trees; B is a graceful sphere, almost invisible against the slate-coloured sky. We don’t love them, we agree, but they have, in their way, become part of life here. It’s the hugeness of the new proposals that makes us shudder.
All of a sudden, we’re at the edge of the forest, crossing a rickety bridge, passing a mass of brilliant-yellow broom to the beach. Equally suddenly, the sun comes out and, looking north with the reactors behind us, we’re seized by the full glory of the Suffolk coast and overwhelmingly happy to be there.
“We return to The Eel’s Foot quietly, absorbed by the magic of Minsmere, shocked by what’s proposed”
Uplifted, we walk up the beach, the wind buffeting and pebbles gleaming. We can see to Walberswick and the coastguards’ cottages at Dunwich catch the light. We walk on top of the bank, the pools of Minsmere on our left.
As we plunge into the marsh, seabirds wheeling above us, a new landscape unfolds. Now, we’re explorers, seeking out the path between the meres and the moor, until we reach the hide where Spineless Si the stickleback won attention in Springwatch. We approach it quietly and — yes — there it is, the quiet, persistent boom of a bittern, a sound that was almost lost to the English landscape.
We return to The Eel’s Foot quietly, absorbed by the magic of Minsmere, shocked by what’s proposed. If you’re worried, too, watch this film on www.sizewellhero.org and let your views be known.
Fiona Reynolds is Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and the author of ‘The Fight for Beauty’. Follow her on Twitter @fionacreynolds
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