• RSPB project will return land to its natural beauty creating a wildlife haven the size of 190 football pitches at Hesketh Out Marsh East in Lancashire
• £1.9 million WREN funded scheme will bolster flood defenses in the area, as well as helping wildlife to thrive
• The work will involve breaching the sea wall to allow water to flow naturally onto the marsh, creating a saltmarsh habitat perfect for breeding wading birds
An ambitious RSPB project will see huge swathe of land returned to its natural habitat creating a wildlife haven, as well as bolstering flood defenses in the face of rising sea levels.
Nestled in the picturesque Ribble Valley, Hesketh Out Marsh East is home to some of the most spectacular species in the north west, including a range of breeding birds such as redshank, lapwing and avocet, as well as many other wildlife like butterflies and brown hares.
The project will not only benefit nature, but those living in the surrounding area too. Once complete, Hesketh Out Marsh East will reduce the future flood risk for over 140 nearby properties and farmland, as well as creating a nature reserve the size of 190 football pitches (154 hectares) that everyone will be able to enjoy.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: "You only have to look around to see that the Hesketh Out Marsh is a special place that is a vital home to an abundance of wildlife. Marsh harriers, shelduck, red admiral and small tortoiseshell butterflies and even boxing hares can be spotted, with this project will only help to boost populations and bring news species to the marsh.
"At a time when wildlife is in crisis - the State of Nature report showed 60% of UK wildlife was in a state of decline - Hesketh Out Marsh will provide the perfect habitat that will allow a number of species to thrive. It is another ambitious conservation project that not only has many long-term benefits to nature, but to people, business and farmland in the surrounding area."
The RSPB and the Environment Agency have already started work on creating a series of lagoons and creeks at the site that will instant benefits, such as habitat, shelter and food to a range of wildlife. The breaching of the outer sea wall is scheduled to begin in summer 2017.
The breaching process will involve strengthening the inner flood defences and then breaching the outer sea wall to allow the water to flow in naturally. This will eventually return the land back to saltmarsh, which will not only act as a buffer absorbing the energy of incoming tides, but will provide perfect habitat for a number of breeding wading birds and wintering wildfowl.
The RSPB purchased Hesketh Out Marsh East, a former part of the estuary that was converted to farmland in the early 1980s, thanks largely to £1.9 million funding from the Landfill Communities Fund from FCC Environment through WREN. The RSPB bought other parts of the land in 2010 and in early 2014, and recently secured the last 54ha (133 acres) block of land needed to complete this ambitious project.
Simon Settle, WREN's Head of Grant Programmes, said: "FCC Environment and WREN are delighted to have provided the funding to help the RSPB purchase Hesketh Out Marsh East which will ensure the important work of returning this land back to saltmarsh for the benefit of wildlife and people can be realised"
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency, said: "It's excellent that this collaborative work has been recognised, which will help secure the scheme's early completion. The project also reduces future flood risk for over 140 properties and brings a range of environmental benefits, including essential climate change adaptation which involves changing the infrastructure and practices to limit the risks posed by climate change."
Mike Burke, North West England Area Manager, for Natural England, said: "It's fabulous news that this partnership project has been able to secure the funding to restore this land for wildlife as a functional part of the Ribble Estuary. Natural England is proud to be part of this. We will continue to work with RSPB, Environment Agency and others in the estuary to support a range of stakeholders' interests."