The river walls on Orford Ness were originally built to create and then protect rich grazing land from what had been salt-marsh. The creation of such large new areas of grazing land required a heavy investment and for this reason only rich landowners could afford it - in this case probably King Henry II in the late 12th century.
It was clear that the site could be divided into three principal areas of defence in terms of future and current importance as well as wall condition. The first, the airfield site, holds the main infrastructure for the management of the site (i.e. offices, workshops, accommodation and visitor facilities) as well as important wading bird breeding grounds. As a result this area is considered the most important from a strategic point of view. Coincidentally the river walls are also in the best condition, due mainly to the protection offered by the salt-marsh in front of them. The plan is to hold and maintain these walls in the long term.
The second area, Kings Marsh, is important for coastal brackish lagoon habitats and further grazing marsh. The walls in this area were extensively repaired in 2000 and the aim is to hold and maintain these in good condition for at least the medium term. A further small section of river wall in the Kings Marsh, facing Stony Ditch, was repaired in 2012 as part of the third EU LIFE-funded project.
The third area, Lantern Marsh, can be divided into two sections - upper and lower. The walls in the lower (southern) marsh, the area occupied by the Cobra Mist site and radio transmission station, will be treated as those in Kings Marsh. However, the walls in the upper (northern) section were inherited in a very poor state, being particularly badly eroded and weakened and consequently were likely to breach in the short term.
Habitat Scheme salt-marsh Agreement
Several studies were carried out by specialist consultants on the condition of the upper Lantern Marsh walls, which identified the the most effective management techniques for the site. Based on these reports, local consultation and consideration of recommendations from recent Shoreline and Estuary Management Strategies produced by the maritime Local Authority and the Environment Agency, the Trust entered the area of upper Lantern Marsh (approx. 37ha) into a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) Habitat Scheme salt-marsh Agreement. The agreement started in September 1999 with the aim of creating salt-marsh habitat by allowing the area to inundate in a managed way. Reinstatement of the wall was not considered a viable option for both practical and financial reasons.