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Charlie Gardner starts 15-day walk from Cambridge to highlight sea level rise threat across East of England





“The government is now actively taking us in the wrong direction,” said academic and environmentalist Dr Charlie Gardner at Jesus Lock before setting out on a 180-mile, 15-day ‘Walking in Water’ walk to raise awareness of sea level rises in the East of England.

The walk, starting in Cambridge on September 24, will take him from Jesus Lock through the Fens to King’s Lynn, round the coast to Great Yarmouth, and then through the Norfolk Broads to Norwich, where he’s scheduled to arrive on October 8.

Charlie Gardner just before setting out on his 15-day walk to the coast and along the coast to highlight the danger of sea level rises. Picture Mike Scialom
Charlie Gardner just before setting out on his 15-day walk to the coast and along the coast to highlight the danger of sea level rises. Picture Mike Scialom

An interdisciplinary conservation scientist, writer, and environmental activist, Dr Gardner points out that the focus of attention on coastal erosion has taken attention away from the flood risk to low-lying inland cities such as Cambridge and Norwich. “The landscapes of eastern England that we’re so familiar with could be completely transformed, within the lifetimes of people already born, unless serious and urgent action is taken on climate change,” he said.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent on Jesus Green, I asked him how he felt about the risk to the environment he was walking through.

Charlie Gardner starts his 15-day (24th September–8th October) walk at Jesus Lock, Cambridge, on a route which will take him from Cambridge through the Fens to King’s Lynn, round the coast to Great Yarmouth, and then through the Norfolk Broads to Norwich. Picture: Mike Scialom
Charlie Gardner starts his 15-day (24th September–8th October) walk at Jesus Lock, Cambridge, on a route which will take him from Cambridge through the Fens to King’s Lynn, round the coast to Great Yarmouth, and then through the Norfolk Broads to Norwich. Picture: Mike Scialom

He replied: “It’s really distressing to have to deal with the fact that we know the outcomes, the knowledge of what’s happening is there but it’s not being taken into account with the planning decisions being taken across the region.

“We are still in an incredibly vulnerable area, but they’re building these houses and selling them without telling the buyers how things are likely to look a few years ahead. Tens of thousands of people are going to lose their homes - some can be defended, but some can’t - and it’s incredible this isn’t more of a news story.

Dr Charlie Gardner walk, September 2023
Dr Charlie Gardner walk, September 2023

“I live in the area and I love the coast so I’m using this snorkel to raise awareness about flood risk, to look at the maps and consider what they mean. Yes they show that large areas will be underwater by 2050 but that isn’t to say that all areas face the same threat. Most of Cambridge is under sea level, but it’s well defended and there are defences at the Wash - the problem is not that all these areas will be flooded by 2050, but that as the water level rises it becomes more and more expensive to defend.

“We could have a 1 metre sea level rise by the end of the century and if global temperatures rise by 3 degrees world civilisation could collapse - there’s no indication human activity could survive.”

Charlie Gardner on Riverside with Cambridge supporters Tony Booth (hat), Terry Macalister and Jason Scott-Warren (bike). Picture: Mike Scialom
Charlie Gardner on Riverside with Cambridge supporters Tony Booth (hat), Terry Macalister and Jason Scott-Warren (bike). Picture: Mike Scialom

I referred Dr Gardner to the statement in his press briefing that the citizens of this country have been ‘abandoned by the people who are in charge of keeping us safe’. So how does he feel that in the past week alone long-standing climate pledges have actually been reversed?

“For a long time we talked about government inaction about climate change, and the government is now actively taking us in the wrong direction because they’ve actively opened new coal mines, actively handed out oil and gas licences for the North Sea, and just last week they shelved the rollout of heat pumps and extended the deadline for phasing out fossil fuel car sales.

Charlie Gardner at Baits Bite Lock with Walking in Water supporters including Cambridge campaigners Terry Macalister, Tony Eva, Tony Booth and Jenny Langley, September 24, 2023. Picture: Derek Langley
Charlie Gardner at Baits Bite Lock with Walking in Water supporters including Cambridge campaigners Terry Macalister, Tony Eva, Tony Booth and Jenny Langley, September 24, 2023. Picture: Derek Langley

“We need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels as quickly as we possibly can. ‘Inaction’ is not the right word any more.”

Addressing the group of Cambridge campaigners on Jesus Green, which included members of organisations including Extinction Rebellion Cambridge, Just Stop Oil, Friends of the River Cam and Water Sensitive Cambridge, Dr Gardner said before leading off: “Hi, I’m Charlie, I’m grateful to have you all here. I’m happy to be here. I feel really responsible for you all but I don’t know what I’m doing, so shall we just walk? Let’s walk!”

See how sea level rises affect your area here. Follow Charlie’s walk on Twitter @walkinginwater1.



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