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Nigel Walker


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Walker’s range covers mainly documentary and social themes. As well as having made contributions to several publications and monographs, his work has recently been included in group shows including the Ferens Open. He is a member of Work Show Grow and Trustee of St Hugh’s Foundation for the Arts


A collaboration with four other photographers (portraits and stories of the pandemic) – ‘Human Impact’ – will be shown from the end of March 2022.

Flood surge is a constant risk on the Humber with climate change largely responsible and possible solutions are proposed. So where does beauty and commercial interest coincide or part?


“To experience sublime natural beauty is to confront the total inadequacy of language to describe what you see. Words cannot convey the scale of a view that is so stunning it is felt.” – Eleanor Catton

A Native American proverb says that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors but borrow it from our children. So, is beauty of social value and where does it feature in the minds of bankers, strategists, politicians and engineers? What are we prepared to meet the cost of? 

The Humber is the second most challenging river to navigate, after the Orinoco. Tidal surges caused by new weather patterns and rising sea levels give highly skilled pilots even greater challenges in taking shipping through the deepwater channels to the ports along its length, through the daily shift of sandbanks and sediment. It is an area under deep threat from climate change.

The River Humber’s name gives a false impression of this huge stretch of water, as it is truly an estuary. Starting 37 miles from the North Sea at the confluence of the Ouse and Trent it winds its way, relatively shallow at first, between East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, grazing Kingston upon Hull as it passes. One mile wide at the start, it finishes with eight miles distance between Cleethorpes and Kilnsea. The gap is interrupted by the shifting spit of sand known as Spurn Point, an unstable and sometimes partially flooded piece of land created by material washed down from the crumbling east coast. This vulnerable peninsula, now a wildlife reserve, juts out almost four miles and helps make for interesting tidal patterns and protected mud flats which are important for overwintering birds.

Nigel Walker River Flight Sept 21.jpg

River Flight  September 2021

Extreme flood events are becoming more likely in the estuary due to global warming. Not only is this leading to rising sea levels but changing weather patterns can exacerbate surges at certain times of the year. The Humber also sits in a bowl with 20% of rainwater falling in England draining from the Peak District, Pennines, North Yorkshire Moors and both the East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds into the estuary. A combination of these events could cause devastation among the more than half a million people living in the area along with the tens of thousands of businesses. Many thousands of hectares of land are at risk of flooding from an extreme flood event alone, as illustrated below.


Courtesy of the Environment Agency

The Humberside region houses critical rail, road and pipeline infrastructure. It is an important trade gateway as well as an industrial centre in its own right, handling 14% of the UK’s national trade with the largest port complex in the country comprising Grimsby, Immingham, Hull and Goole. The latter port handles smaller cargoes as the deep-water channel only extends to Hull but is important as it gives access to the interior waterway and canal systems that allow onward passage to inland communities. There are around 40.000 large ship movements a year in the estuary, as well as activity by many smaller leisure craft operating out of the marinas and small harbours along the river.

The Humber is also the UK’s “Energy Estuary”, connected to around 25% of UK energy, whether this is through direct generation or in the import and export of fuels. The gas pipeline bringing significant amounts of supplies under the North Sea from Norway has landfall to the north of Spurn Point and the petro-chemical industries which line the river are vital to keeping the UK moving. Some of these may themselves be significant contributors to climate change while others, such as the Siemens wind turbine factory in Hull, is helping to change that pattern. The 3.6GW Dogger Bank Windfarm will also have landfall and storage facilities in the area north of Hull.

Nigel Walker Powerstation Sept 21.jpg

Powerstation  September 2021

Nigel Walker Storm from the bridge Sept 21.jpg

Storm from the Bridge  September 2021

The river is extremely healthy despite its appearance which is caused by sediment. The sediment is important and delivers pockets of shoreline lakes and semi-permanent islands. These offer habitats to millions of invertebrates which, in turn, become a food source for other species. This gives intense diversity of life along the river and creates an internationally important natural asset for wildlife, particularly overwintering birds. The valuable intertidal habitat like saltmarsh helps reduce the impact of severe floods. Several notable wildlife reserves are present on both the Humber and its tributaries. In addition, decreasing salinity as the river moves further from the sea provides rich reed beds and samphire in the inland areas of the estuary.

Although significant investment has been made to improve the area's flood defences, the risk of flooding can never be removed entirely. The Royal Society states “If CO2 and other greenhouse gases continue to increase on their current trajectories, it is projected that sea level may rise, at minimum, by a further 0.4 to 0.8 m (1.3 to 2.6 feet) by 2100, although future ice sheet melt could make these values considerably higher.“

Nigel Walker Lighthouse and city Sept 21.jpg

Lighthouse and the City  September 2021

NIgel Walker South Bank light Sept 21.jpg

South Bank light  September 2021

Nigel Walker Saltsend at dusk Sept 21.jpg

Saltsend at dusk  September 2021

In December 2013 the most serious recent tidal surge led to the flooding of 1,100 homes and businesses through a combination of high spring tides and a deep low pressure system. In some areas the existing flood defences were overwhelmed and the resultant flooding caused millions of pounds worth of damage. However, this did give some evidence for how flood water will behave and has helped in consideration of a new flood strategy, Humber 2100+. This new strategy will result from conversations with twelve local authorities and the Environment Agency in association with Local Enterprise Partnerships, Natural England and Internal Drainage Boards to make the area safer and sustainable.

Three potential strategic approaches are currently subject to further evaluation -

  • Managing the tide using a combination of improved flood defences, existing and additional flood storage and occasional planned flooding of land. Improved resilience and changes to land use in some areas may be required;

  • Adapting to the tide by continuing to improve and maintain defences in some areas and changing land use in others so as to allow defences to be deliberately altered or moved over time according to risk. This gives a greater capacity for flood storage and large scale (but planned) flooding of land.

  • Keeping out the tide through the construction of a tidal surge barrier in the outer estuary.

So, there are the cold facts and figures. The possibilities and alternatives that could map out a grim or less grim future. But in all of that what seems to be missed is the shimmering beauty of this place. Its huge skies domed above the flat land that carry the light in so many ways to bounce off the towering clouds and watery conveyor belt. The flowing river that can be cold steel or warm chocolate. The dragonflies blue or red. The geese that soar above you in huge and noisy skeins and whirlpool murmurations that appear along the banks in autumn. The reeds are ochre and the samphire emerald. Despite the large conurbations there are many places to lose yourself in this place. Paths that meander along the river, sometimes diverting themselves through a wood or nature reserve, but always returning. Narrow roads, if you are lucky with passing places, that seem endlessly long before they reach a small haven. Industrial sites which, viewed in the night, are like fairy factories with myriad bright lights, overhead gantries and the occasional flame although in daylight they can seem menacing and dangerous; sleeping dragons.

In all the considerations that the decision makers use in reaching their conclusions and our willingness and ability to pay for those, let us sincerely hope that this beauty is not lost on them.

Pages consulted for this piece

Nigel Walker Estuary morning Sept 21.jpg
Nigel Walker Skeffling Saltmarsh Set 21.jpg

Skeffling Saltmarsh  September 2021

Nigel Walker Faxfleet Sept 21.jpg

Faxfleet  September 2021

Nigel Walker Big Sky at Paull Sept 21.jpg

Big Sky at Paull  September 2021

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