Our Wallasea Island Wild Coast project has been in the news for over a week now – and we’re delighted it is because we very proud of the scale and ambition of restoring a large chunk of the Essex coast for wildlife.
But there’s more; Wallasea Island will be in the forefront of connecting people to nature.
And more; restoring the coast’s timeless tides to Wallasea Island will help make the coastline better able to withstand the changes a warming climate will bring and will help to protect us. Policy makers call this ecosystem services – jargon for the simple fact that a healthy natural environment is good for us!
We can’t do it alone and at the heart of the recent news-fest about Wallasea Island’s restoration is our partnership with Crossrail. It hasn’t gone un-noticed that a Government Minister (newly appointed Environment Secretary Owen Patterson) joined us to push the go button on a major part of one of this country’s biggest infrastructure projects which is also actively contributing to the restoration of our natural world.
Artists impression of Wallasea Island - the mix of coastal features will include saltmarsh. Artwork by Ricard Allen.
But restoring nature’s glory isn’t easy; it’s expensive and trying to replace the original is fraught with problems. A paper published the other day in the Journal of Applied Ecology, is a valuable reminder of the challenges we face in stitching back together the damaged canvass of our natural world.
The authors focus on the plants of saltmarsh – that bit of our coastal landscape that gets washed by the tide before being left high and dry. The plants have to contend with sloshing about in seawater one moment and baking in the sun the next.
The paper reminded me of a study trip to the Eastern seaboard of the USA a couple of decades ago. I was looking at the then in-vogue topic of Coastal Zone Management and was taken to several re-created saltmarshes – green and better than nothing, but not replicating the diversity of the undamaged original.
But then no-one said it was going to be easy!
One of the basic principles of the nature conservation movement is to protect what you already have – stopping madcap developments that damage our best wildlife sites is a fundamental battle that we fight daily (and this blog is full of those stories) – just across the Thames Estuary from Wallasea we are lining up (again) to oppose vastly damaging airport proposals that would lead to further unsustainable loss of coastal habitats. The jargon, in case you need it for a pub quiz, is in situ nature conservation.
We’re old hands at the habitat re-creation business here at the RSPB, freshwater wetlands made from gravel pits, fens from carrot fields, lowland heathland from dark conifer plantations. We do this not because it’s better than protecting the best – we do it to tackle the headlong losses of previous decades. It isn’t a choice between protecting the best and restoring the rest – they are equally essential if future generations are to inherit a world richer in nature than we have today.
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