Inland Navigable Waters

Key Characteristics

  • Sheltered estuarine waters and gently meandering tidal rivers fringed by bays and small inlets or creeks where tributaries enter. Tidal muds and occasional sandy or shingle beaches revealed at low
  • Topography and land use along the rivers Low lying and generally flat intertidal muds, salt marshes and coastal levels contrast to stretches of river with pronounced valley sides, localised soft cliffs expressing underlying geology
  • Engineered stone and concrete flood defences adjacent to settlements, ports and marinas and raised earth embankments often adjacent to areas of
  • Wetlands are of importance for breeding birds in the summer and overwintering water birds.
  • The remains of past wharfs along the foreshore and historic ship hulks in the mudflats contribute to time depth and express the strategic importance of these navigations for communication and trade over many
  • Often busy waters, piloted by some large commercial vessels and small pleasure craft to inland ports and marinas which have typical infrastructure including quays, jetties, boatyards, slipways and in some cases Riverine muds dredged periodically to maintain navigations.
  • Recreational sailing Landward areas are popular for walking, bird watching and angling.
  • Commercial fishing, especially in the larger estuarine
  • Several rivers have strong cultural
  • Long distance and relatively expansive views inland possible, especially across adjacent low-lying Views to adjacent towns, major ports and infrastructure (including river crossings) have localised urbanising effect.
  • Landmarks aid navigation and can reinforce a strong sense of place and local
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The Inland Navigable Waters SCT extends across the estuaries and tidal reaches of the major coastal rivers of the Stour, Orwell, Deben, Alde, Ore, Blythe, Waveney and Yare. Each river displays a unique character as they vary considerably in length and width and in their relationships with adjacent land uses.

The low water mark defines the edges of the Inland Navigable Waters SCT. The landward limits are typically defined by features such as bridges and other infrastructure crossing the river. The eastward (seaward) limits of the Stour and Orwell are defined by the adjacent International Ports and Approaches SCT. The eastward boundary of the remaining rivers is defined by the Nearshore Waters SCT or the Developed Nearshore Waters SCT.

Physical Influences

At high tide, the often gently meandering river channels and estuaries are characterised by tracts of turbid water fringed by bays and small inlets or creeks where tributaries enter. At low tide, the channels narrow to reveal intertidal muds formed of marine alluvium and occasionally sandy or shingle beaches. These superficial deposits largely mask the underlying geology. However, occasionally low cliffs define the river edge to reveal the underlying geology. For example, at Stutton Ness on the River Stour, fossil bearing Pleistocene cliffs are exposed.

The rivers form an intimate mosaic with adjacent land uses and significant variations in character exist between and along these watercourses. Some stretches of river are fringed by relatively pronounced rolling valley sides where farmland, woodlands and parklands extend to the river’s edge. Elsewhere the adjacent intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes merge into low lying coastal levels and grazing marshes, or the boundary is marked by raised earth embankments. Some areas are more urban in character with the river’s edge defined by concrete and stone food defences adjacent to port infrastructure and buildings.

The matrix of open water, intertidal areas and adjacent farmland are important habitats. Several rivers are designated, typically as they form summer breeding grounds for birds such as avocet and in winter host major concentrations of water birds, including geese, ducks and waders which feed and roost in surrounding agricultural areas. The Rivers Yare and Blythe provide continuous foraging for species such as little tern by linking designated areas along the coast to the wetlands further inland at Breydon Water and the Minsmere-Walberswick tidal lagoon.

Cultural Influences

The navigable rivers have been strategically important routeways and the focus of trade and communication for thousands of years. Evidence of their significance can be found at various locations, both along the coast and inland in the form of ancient riverside settlements, buildings and archaeological sites. In many cases, historic quays, wharfs and jetties lie below modern development. However, some decaying remnants survive. Perhaps the most evocative features are the hulls of ships and boats which are revealed at low tide.

Several inshore settlements were established as ports or had industries related to maritime activity and there has been continuous habitation and expansion at several key centres.

Perhaps the most well- known is Ipswich which can trace its origins to the early Saxon period as trading port at the first available fording point on the River Orwell. Woodbridge on the River Deben was known for building merchant ships and men of war for the navy and enjoyed coastal and continental trade until the railway opened in the 19th century. At Snape, there was already a busy shipping port prior to the establishment of the Maltings to ship malted barley to breweries in London by Thames barge. The contemporary port of Misterley may have its origins as a Roman port. However, today many buildings in the town are contemporary with the quay constructed in the early 18th century and subsequent expansion of operations to handle imports of coal and the export of corn to London markets and other coastal ports. Other sites have disappeared or changed location or function. For example, nothing remains of the once important medieval port of Goseford also on the River Deben.

These waterways may have had ritual or symbolic importance. Excavations at Snape and Sutton Hoo have revealed Anglo Saxon ship burials which have a close relationship to the adjacent navigable river channels. Ancient churches also occupy riverside locations and are particularly evocative when viewed from the water, such as the church of St Botolph at Iken on the River Alde and Holy Trinity Church overlooking Blythburgh Water. These must have been important aids to navigation and remain helpful points of orientation today.

Controlling access to these inland waterways is also evidenced in the remnants of forts and defensive structures. Burgh Castle, constructed in the late 3rd century, is one of the best- preserved Roman monuments in the country. It was paired with nearby fort at Caistor and controlled the entrance navigable waterways. It was later reused as the site of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle. At Orford, the imposing polygonal tower keep overlooked the former port, which fell into decline once the Alde became silted up and the spit of Orford Ness increased, making access difficult for larger vessels.

Designed parklands are a distinctive feature on the rolling banks overlooking the Stour and Orwell. For example, at Misterley there are remnants of a parkland laid out and remodelled by the Rigby family which built the original quay. Two porticoed Classical towers are all that remain today of a grandiose but highly unconventional Georgian church which was designed to lie centrally in the view from the old hall to the River Stour.

Several rivers continue to be used for commercial shipping and are periodically dredged to maintain navigations for deeper drafted vessels. Large ships can be seen piloting the rivers and at anchor in inland ports and harbours such as Mistley, Ipswich, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth where grain silos, warehouses, yards and cranes are characteristic features.

Fishing vessels operate out of and within several of the rivers. Activity ranges from rod and line fishing to trawling with fixed or drift nets, with commercially caught species including bass, mullet and flounder. Dover Sole is targeted closer to the estuaries.

All of the rivers are popular for recreational sailing. The RYA has designated the upper reaches of the Deben, stretches of the Alde and Ore and Blyth as general boating areas. There are numerous harbours, marinas, quays, moorings and boat yards. Buoys often mark the approaches to the rivers and navigable channels within them. Churches, grain silos and other prominent structures act as landmarks to aid navigation. Yachting and sailing clubs are also located along several rivers.

The rivers are also the focus of terrestrial recreational activity. Walking, angling and bird watching are particularly popular pursuits and there are several nature reserves and footpaths along the rivers, including stretches of national and promoted routes. Seasonal ferries operate on some rivers, such the summer ferry across the mouth of the River Deben.

Several rivers have strong cultural associations with events and people. The Saxon epic poem Beowulf, which evokes the royal elites buried at Snape and Sutton Hoo, has close associations with the River Deben and is celebrated at an annual festival at Woodbridge. The River Orwell and Pin Mill provide a setting for several books by Arthur Ransome.

Benjamin Britten lived for a time at the Old Mill in Snape and the Maltings now hosts a range of concerts including many of those associated with the Aldeburgh Festival which he established.

Aesthetic and Perceptual Qualities

The rivers vary significantly in their visual character. Hard defences, infrastructure, warehouses and riverside development are characteristic of stretches of the river adjacent to ports and larger settlements. Here an urban character prevails, and views from the river can be relatively constrained by built development. Elsewhere, the rivers are characterised by a rural hinterland. When fringed by saltmarshes and intertidal flats, views can be relatively expansive, and the lack of access to the river edge can create an isolated and wilderness character. Elsewhere, the riverside is bordered by rolling farmland and parkland. Here a rural character prevails, and in some instances, landform and woodland can restrict expansive views from and across the river creating a more intimate character, although views along the river are typically expansive.

Stretches of river adjacent to and approaching ports and harbours can have a busy character. However, even in remoter stretches, recreational craft are sometimes visible.

Tides have a profound influence on the visual character of these riverscapes. At low tide, the rivers narrow to reveal sometimes wide expanses of intertidal muds and on occasions the evocative hulks of ships, boats and former wharves.

Landmarks, including lighthouses, riverside structures and prominent features aid navigation. Some features reinforce a strong sense of place and local identity, such as the Orwell Bridge (Orwell), Woodbridge Tide Mill (Deben) and Orford Castle (Alde).