National Trust’s position on the Orford Ness lighthouse

In response to today’s article in the Sunday Telegraph, the National Trust sets out its position on the future of the Orford Ness lighthouse

Orford Ness National Nature Reserve has been owned and cared for by the National Trust since 1993. The current lighthouse dates from 1792 and is the third to be built on the site. At no time has the Trust owned the lighthouse on the site and whilst we care for the Orford Ness landscape, it is Natural England that holds the authority for determining permissions on any coastal defence work.

Orford Ness is one of the finest examples of a vegetated shingle spit in Europe, an internationally important nature reserve and has been given multiple designations for the importance of its landscape, including being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Natura 2000 site, which is the highest level of European conservation designation and one that is protected under the agreement of the 1971 Ramsar Convention for its wetland and marshes that offer vital habitats for breeding birds and wildlife.

The entire Ness is subject to tidal forces and wave action and is a constantly changing natural landscape. Its changing form and dynamic nature is part of what makes it one of the rarest vegetated shingle spits in the world.

In 2010, when Trinity House announced the decision to decommission the lighthouse, we worked collaboratively to agree a position that we would allow natural forces to dictate the future of the building.

Whilst we recognise how iconic this building is in the local area, we do not believe that attempts at stabilisation with soft defences such as sandbags would be effective or appropriate and could be washed away in one storm.

Hard defences such as rock armour, may protect the lighthouse in the short term, but could accelerate erosion elsewhere. In the last 20 years approximately 80 metres of shingle spit has been lost from in front of the lighthouse and so far this winter almost four metres has been eroded, leaving the base of the lighthouse some 11 metres from the beach.

As sad as it is, we feel that any attempts to defend the lighthouse where it stands would either be unsuccessful, or cause unacceptable damage to what is a fragile habitat of international importance.

As well as the fragile landscape and wildlife habitats that we protect from excessive damage and disturbance, Orford Ness is also steeped in military history and was a secret MoD test site from 1913 until the mid-1980s. Indeed, over the years, an enormous amount of unexploded ordnance has been discovered and visitors are urged to stay to designated routes.

Orford Ness is a unique National Trust property. This wild and unique site offers self-guided visits and the chance to experience the feeling of remoteness and isolation that are to key to its atmosphere. When choosing to limit the number of visitors we considered not only the fragile landscape, but also feedback from visitors that they prefer to feel isolated and alone.

Accessible only by boat, there is also a practical limit to the number of visitors who can be taken to and from the Ness each day.

There has been an annual open day at the lighthouse for at least ten years and whilst it is still safe to do so we will continue to assist where we can with these.

Moving forward, we repeat our previous thoughts that removing and preserving key historical artefacts from inside the lighthouse must be a priority and we were working with Trinity House on their work to begin this process.

We will continue to work with Mr Gold wherever possible and wish to maintain a productive relationship over the coming years. 


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