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RECLAMATION OF LAND

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 955 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RECLAMATION OF LAND. The boundaries between sea and land are perennially changing. In many sheltered bays and estuaries the sea is receding, while along other portions of the sea-coast it is continuously encroaching. The same causes operate to produce both results: the rivers carry down with them detritus and sediment from the higher ground; the sea, aided by wind and tide, is always eroding exposed portions of the seaboard; and even such lesser influences as rain and frost assist in disintegrating cliffs composed of softer strata. The main object of reclaiming land from the sea is to increase the area of ground available for cultivation. Land which has been raised by accretion nearly to high-water level can be shut off from the sea by works of a simple and inexpensive nature, and the fresh alluvial soil thus obtained is generally very fertile. Accretion in estuaries takes place very slowly under ordinary conditions. Although at any one time the sheltered areas may be large and the deposit of silt fairly rapid, not much permanent accretion will take place owing to the frequent shifting of the channels. Directly, 'however, a fixed channel is secured by longitudinal embankments or training walls, accretion progresses rapidly and uninterruptedly by the deposit of sediment in the slack-water behind the embankments and at the sides of the estuary; and this is especially the case if the training works are raised to the level of high water, for this has the effect of restricting the greater part of the scour of tide and fresh-water discharge to the one fixed channel. The rate of accretion varies with the shelter of the site and the amount of sediment carried by the water; but by degrees the foreshores, in the upper portion and at the sides of the embanked estuary, are raised sufficiently for samphire to make its appearance, and, later on, a coarse grass. Ultimately the time arrives when the water may be altogether excluded by the construction of enclosing embankments; these must be raised above the level of the highest tide, and should have a flat slope on the exposed side, protected, in proportion to exposure and depth of water, against the face with clay, sods, fascines or stone pitching. In the intermediate stages of the process outlined above much may be done to promote the growth of accretion, or warping as it is termed, and to ensure the fertility of the reclaimed land. The deposit of warp is accelerated by anything which tends to reduce the flow and consequent scour of the ebb-tide over the foreshore: thus considerable advantage will accrue from placing rows of faggots or sods across the lines of flow; and banks, enclosing the higher portions of the foreshore, may often be constructed so as materially to increase the period of stagnation, near high tide, of the silt-bearing water upon the lower adjacent foreshore. The light, fertilizing alluvium only deposits in shallow water at high tide, and where there are no tidal currents. The final enclosure, therefore, should not be effected until this deposit has taken place. The enclosing works, also, should be so carried out that increasing shelter may favour the deposits of this alluvium during construction. A final and rapid deposit can sometimes be effected by making sluices in the banks: the turbid water is admitted near high tide, and retained until the whole of its silt has been deposited, the clear water being allowed to escape slowly towards low tide. Premature enclosure must be guarded against; it is more difficult, the cost greater, the reclaimed land is less fertile and, being lower, less easy to drain. The practice of reclaiming land in British estuaries is a very ancient one. The Romans effected reclamations in the Fen districts; the enclosing of Sunk Island in the Humber was begun in the 17th century, and now produces an annual revenue of something like £ro,000; large reclamations in the Dee estuary took place in the 18th century; and, in recent times, works have been carried out in the estuaries of the Seine, the Ribble and the Tees. In the reclamation of land adjoining the sea-coast, sites where accretion is taking place are obviously the most suitable. Marsh lands adjoining the sea, and more or less subject to inundation at high tides, can be permanently reclaimed by embankments; but these, unless there is protection from sand dunes or a shingle beach, require to be stronger, higher, with a less steeply inclined and better protected slope than is required in estuaries. The width of the bank will generally prevent percolation of water at the base; but if there is any danger of infiltration, owing to unsuitability of material, a central core of puddled clay or a row of sheet-piling should be employed. Waves over-topping the bank will quickly cause a breach, and produce disastrous results; the height of the bank must, therefore, be calculated to meet the case of the severest on-shore gale coinciding with the highest spring tide. Undermining, caused by the recoil of waves on the beach, is liable to occur in exposed sites; this may be prevented by a line of sheet-piling along the outer toe of the bank. Sea-coast embankments should not generally be constructed farther down the foreshore than half-tide level, as the cost of construction and maintenance would increase out of all proportion to the additional area obtained. It is, as a rule, more economical to reclaim a large area at one time, instead of enclosing it gradually in sections, as the cost varies with the length of embankment; it is, however, more difficult to effect the final closing of a bank, where a large area is thus reclaimed, on account of the greater volume of tidal-water flowing in and out of the contracted opening. The final closing of a reclamation embankment is best accomplished by leaving a fairly wide aperture, and by gradually raising a level bank across its entire length. The enclosed area may be left full of water to the height of the unfinished bank, or the tide-water may be allowed to escape and enter again by sluices in the finished sections. The embankments in Holland are closed by sinking long fascine mattresses across the opening; these are weighted with clay and stone, and effectually withstand the scour through the gap; the two terminal slopes of the finished sections are similarly protected. There are many examples of sea-coast reclamation: Romney marsh was enclosed long ago by the Dymchurch wall (see fig. r), and a large portion of Holland has been reclaimed from the sea by embankments (see fig. 2); the reclamation bank for the Hodbarrow iron mines (see fig. 3) illustrates the use of puddled clay to prevent infiltration. The repair of a breach effected in a completed reclamation embankment is a more difficult task than that of closing thefinal gap during construction; this is owing to the channel or gully scoured out upon the opening of the breach. When a maw , aO . 1 . loo P.*. FIG. r.—Sea-wall at Dymchurch. breach occurs which cannot be closed in a single tide, the formation of an over-deep gully may to some extent be prevented ab,
End of Article: RECLAMATION OF LAND
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JEAN JACQUES ELISEE RECLUS (1830-1905)

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