Simon Read works in places experiencing environmental change, in particular coastal areas in the East of England, from the Humber Estuary through to the Suffolk coast. He also works in other contexts such as the River Lea in the East of London and upon the West Coast of Wales. Since 2008, Read has worked in association with the Deben Estuary Partnership which includes the River Deben Association, researching methods of managing wetland sites within the estuary and upon the immediate coast.
Sutton Saltmarsh is a fringing marsh on the upper reaches of the River Deben. The river wall, in front of the saltmarsh, was constructed as an access to a ferry landing until the 1970s, when the ferry was discontinued. Subsequently the wall became neglected and began to disintegrate, exposing the saltmarsh to tidal scour. Read, in partnership with The River Deben Association, proposed the use of soft engineering solutions to counteract tidal scour and to increase sedimentation on the site and was responsible for submitting the plans to the Environment Agency and English Nature.
The Sutton Tidal Attenuation Barrier, a 90-metre wall, constructed of 62 panels comprised of heavy-duty plastic mesh and brushwood, replacing the derelict river wall. The wall functions as a defence from tidal action and promotes the accretion of estuarine silt, limiting further erosion of the saltmarsh and promoting revegetation. Read said, “My identity as an artist in projects like this is ambiguous. In any such partnership, the question of authorship is not really appropriate, neither should the status of the structure be an issue. It might be attractive to think of it as sculpture by default, but this is a conceit.”
In 2016, a report was prepared by Read on the efficiency of the project.
Read has been involved in many similar projects, which address the effects of coastal tides on saltmarsh sites. The Saltmarsh Management Scheme was developed for Suffolk Yacht Harbour to limit saltmarsh decay and encourage accretion at two sites on the Orwell Estuary. In order to retain its viability as a deep-water marina, Suffolk Yacht Harbour must undertake an annual dredging operation responsibly and therefore must establish appropriate receptor sites. 15,000-20,000 cubic metres of spoil are taken from the bed of the marina and shared between both deposit locations annually.
This project proposed to transfer the dredging spoil to two SSSI saltmarsh receptor sites adjacent to the harbour that otherwise would be vulnerable to continuing loss due to wave, shipwash, tidal action and sea level rise.
Prior to the dredging operation, bunds (or barriers) composed of brushwood and coir were designed and put in place by Read to retain pumped dredging spoil in the channel system, promote natural sedimentation and encourage the establishment of healthy saltmarsh. These structures are monitored and recorded annually to verify their efficiency and to determine necessary adjustments and extension. Dredging spoil from the harbour, relocated to these sites, encourages growth around the bunds and natural sedimentary formation. Ideally this should promote a more resilient marshland, and a safeguard against further erosion.
At the Loompit Lake site, brushwood was used to create a holding pen at point of discharge and coir logs were installed to interrupt the drain channels that form across the whole site to encourage sediment to settle evenly across the mudflat surface. After the process of depositing spoil, it was found that the barriers had filled with sediment and by the next season were beginning to become colonised by pioneer vegetation such as cord grass (spartina anglica) and samphire (salicornia).