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Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project

Artist's impression of Wallasea Island in 2019

Image: The RSPB

The UK coastal landscape is amongst the most dramatic and diverse of any, but it is undeniably changing.

Four hundred years ago, the Essex coast was a wild and stunning place, a haven for wildlife and a source of livelihood for local communities. Sadly, today, less than one tenth of this wild coast remains. Past land claim for agriculture and, now, accelerating coastal erosion with rising sea levels have seen the area of intertidal salt marsh on this coast reduced by over 91% in the past 400 years. A truly staggering figure.

Prior to being enclosed by the current sea walls, Wallasea 'Island' was made up of five separate saltmarsh islands - each with dwellings and managed as separate grazing enterprises. These areas of saltmarsh were progressively enclosed by sea defences, eventually developing the current island shape. Some small-scale arable areas were present periodically but the area was largely managed with sheep as Essex coastal grazing marsh until the drainage/conversion to arable took place from the 1930s.

Our Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project will transform this island back into a magical intertidal coastal marshland. The planning, the talking and the actions involved in making this project come to life demonstrate how we are helping the coast and its wildlife adapt in the face of climate change. We will strive to create a rich area, not only for wildlife, but for people too – the benefits of which will be felt throughout the local community and much further afield.

We looked at a variety of options for how best to carry out this project. After careful consultation and examination, a managed realignment option was deemed the most appropriate, providing the low land level could be raised. In early 2008, we were approached by Crossrail - a British project to build major new railway connections under central London - who were seeking a beneficiary to reuse the clean spoil from their tunnelling.

Managed realignment is an intertidal habitat creation technique, using breaches (holes) in the sea wall to allow the sea in to recreate intertidal habitats - the habitats you get are dependent on the height of the land being flooded. This option seemed perfect for the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project and will enable the design work to focus on the more sustainable managed realignment option. The material from the Crossrail partnership will consist of clay, chalk and gravel and will help transform into nearly 1,500 acres of tidal wildlife habitat.

The new habitats created through this remarkable project will support a stunning array of nationally and internationally important bird populations, as well as a host of other wildlife. This new, wild coast will enable visitors to experience a rich, wonderful environment full of biodiversity – there really will be something for everyone!

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Location

Currently, the site sits within an internationally important estuary, close to the Thames Gateway - one of Europe's largest economic regeneration areas. It will create a huge expanse of habitat for wildlife and birds, whose existing habitats are being damaged and lost because of climate change. The range of habitats recreated on the island will include mudflats, saltmarsh, saline lagoons and brackish marsh.

Our hope is to also create a major new visitor attraction for quiet enjoyment of nature and open space that will reconnect people with their coastal heritage. We will include a visitor centre, five birdwatching hides complete with 15 km of new footpaths.

Wallasea Island lies within the Crouch and Roach estuaries. The international importance of this area has been recognised by European designations as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its wintering brent geese and waterfowl assemblage, and as Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its intertidal habits and as a wetland of International importance through the Ramsar designation.

The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project will create more space for nature as intertidal habitats elsewhere within the estuary continue to be lost from rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

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Reserves affected

We would welcome letters of support for the project, or perhaps you have personal recollections of the Essex coastline, pictures, anecdotes or facts – we would love to hear from you!

Please send your emails in to chris.tyas@rspb.org.uk. You can also write to:

Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project
Grapnell's Farm
Creeksea Ferry Road
Wallasea Island
Essex
SS4 2HD

Telephone: Chris Tyas, Wallasea Island Project Manager on 01621 862621.

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Reserves affected

This project is considered not only timely, but vital. If we let nature do its own thing and allow an unmanaged breach of the sea walls to occur, a huge volume of sea water would exceed the estuary capacity. This increased flow would lead to erosion and major disruption to any commercial or amenity use.

We aim to control this tidal flow to avoid such significant, damaging effects. The managed realignment works will be achieved by breaching the existing seawall, with new sea walls created to prevent tidal flooding on the western part of the island.

Our public consultations with Local Authorities, Yacht Clubs and local communities have helped us develop the design and we have incorporated many of the suggestions we received into the final design that received planning consent in July 2009. We will work with all parties involved as we create the habitats and extend public access, proving that the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project really can benefit everyone.

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2000

We start talks with Wallasea Farms about our vision and this eventually leads to us signing an option to buy the 744ha of land from them

2006

Defra creates a 115ha managed realignment site along the north of Wallasea Island. This is to compensate for the intertidal habitat lost elsewhere in southeast England. We win the tender to manage this site for five years for March 2007

November 2008

We announce our intention to work with Crossrail as a potential supplier of material to build up the island. We spend a total of £750,000 on studies to prove that the project is feasible and acceptable both socially and environmentally

December 2008

A planning application is submitted to Essex County Council and we hold drop-in sessions for people to view and discuss our plans in the same month. We encourage interested parties to make their views known to the County Council through the public consultation on the application

July 2009

Planning consent is granted following completion of a planning agreement

July-September 2009

Enabling works completed, with construction of bund base for conveyor belt and phase one of the water vole mitigation habitat

September 2009

Acquire first piece of land (344ha)

November 2009

An application for a works License for the unloading facility has been made to Crouch Harbour Authority. The three plans accompanying this application can be seen under the downloads section

December 2009

Application made for FEPA/Coastal Protection Act Licences for unloading facility (see plans under download section)

December 2009

Submission to Essex County Council planners for approval under conditions relating to unloading facility (see plans under download section)

February 2010–April 2011

20 submissions made under 16 of the planning conditions – extra detail required ahead of the start of the main works

September 2010

Acquire second piece of land (149ha)

September 2010

18ha of wild bird cover created at west of site (see the approved scheme plan download to the side of this page)

October-December 2010

Design work completed for saline lagoon in Cell 5 - construction scheduled for autumn 2012

February 2011

Crossrail appoint BamNutall to construct unloading facility

August 2011

BamNutall start on-site element of work – with completion of unloading facility expected in June 2012

September 2011

Complete the final phase of land purchase, giving a land holding of 744ha

April 2011

Construction of unloading facility machinery recommences

June 2012

Unloading facility commissioning

July 2012

First shipment of material from Crossrail tunnels arrives on Wallasea

August 2012

Cell 5 saline lagoon construction scheduled to start

September 2012

Cell 5 grazing marsh ground works scheduled to start

Downloads

Reserves affected