The Tollesbury and Orplands Managed Retreat Sites

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The Tollebury and Orplands sites were some of the earliest managed retreat sites in the UK, and at both sites sea walls were breached in 1995. The following photographs were taken in 2001.


Six years after the sea wall was breached, the Tollesbury site still consists mostly of bare mud and pioneer plant communities.

View across Tollesbury site from western end, showing flat topography, extensive areas of bare mud, ephemeral green algae and some pioneer communities composed largely of the salt tolerant annual plant samphire or glasswort (Salicornia).

view from west

Looking west along sea wall from near the site of the breach, showing retreat site to left and adjacent natural marsh to the right.

natural and retreat site contrasted

Natural saltmarsh adjacent to Tollebury site showing topographical complexity and high creek density.

Natural marsh

Close up of vegetation at Tollesbury, showing cordgrass (Spartina) and samphire (Salicornia).

Spartina and Salicornia

The low wave energy at the site means that physical features persist for a very long period. On this view, looking North across the site, the Salicornia plants are growing in clearly defined lines, showing where some parts of the site were ploughed before the sea wall was breached.


There are still extensive areas of bare mud and pioneer plant communites on the Orplands site, although there is a greater variety of vegetation types than at Tollesbury and in the South-West corner of the site there is a transition from saltmarsh to non-tidal grassland not interrupted by a seawall, a transition that is rather unusual in East Anglia because of the extensive land claim that has taken place on the upper edge of most saltmarsh sites in this region.

Looking westwards along seawall from eastern end of site, showing badly eroding saltmarsh outside of the breached sea wall (to the right) and retreat site to the left of the picture.

Much of the site is still dominated by bare mud, green algae and pioneer plant communities

pioneer communities, Orplands

But on the higher parts of the site, a more diverse set of communities is developing

Upper marsh

On the heavily managed coastline of East Anglia, the Orplands site is relatively unusual in having a transition from mudflat through saltmarsh to a fully terrestrial environment, without an intervening sea wall, as can be seen on this photomontage (looking east from the western end of the site).

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Alastair Grant

Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
School of Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia

Tel +44 (0)1603 592537 FAX +44 (0)1603 507719 e-mail

 More general information on Ecology at UEA