Work has begun on the final phase of a coastal wetland restoration initiative at RSPB Wallasea Island in Essex that will see an area twice the size of the City of London transformed into a nature reserve for rare and threatened wildlife.
Earthworks begin on final phase of UK’s largest ever coastal wetland restoration project
- Wallasea Island in Essex is the site of the largest coastal habitat restoration ever undertaken in the UK.
- 2018 will see the creation 269 hectares of new coastal lagoons and marshes - habitats which have historically been lost from large swathes of the Essex and UK coastlines.
- When complete, the wetland wildlife habitat recreated by the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project will form a nature reserve twice the size of the City of London.
- The project is a model for coastal habitat creation and natural flood risk management, demonstrating how coastal areas can be future-proofed against sea-level rise at the same time as delivering benefits for wildlife.
Work has begun on the final phase of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, a coastal wetland restoration initiative that will see an area twice the size of the City of London on the Essex coast transformed into a nature reserve for rare and threatened birds and other wildlife.
This month, contractors BAM Nuttall broke ground on earthworks that will see the creation in 2018 of three new areas of coastal wetland habitat – 55 hectares of brackish marsh, 82 hectares of freshwater marsh, and 132 hectares of tidal saline lagoon – made possible by grants from Viridor Credits, Enovert Community Trust, and Banister Charitable Trust.
Added to the 399 hectares already restored at Wallasea Island since 2011, the new habitats will complete the UK’s largest coastal wetland restoration, and the largest mosaic of habitats of its kind in Northern Europe.
Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project Manager Chris Tyas, of the RSPB, said: “After nearly ten years since the RSPB first purchased the land at Wallasea Island with the aim of restoring the coastal wetland that once existed here, it’s fantastic to finally be embarking on the final phase of habitat creation – the last piece of the puzzle that will complete the picture of Wallasea Island as a coastal wetland for the future, for wildlife and people.
“There is a lot happening this year – building new bunds and sluices to control the flow of water from the estuary into and out of the new lagoons and marshes – and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the project’s funders and many partners and stakeholders. Thanks to them, the vision we had for Wallasea will soon be fully realised.
“In light of report after report and study after study showing that wildlife continues to decline in England and throughout the UK, the Wallasea Island Wild Coast could not be coming to fruition at a more vital time. We hope it will serve as a model for equally ambitious plans to restore lost wildlife habitats elsewhere in the country in the future.”
Watch our new video about Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project 2018:
From arable fields to wetland wildlife haven
Since 2009, when the RSPB purchased 670 hectares of arable farmland in the Crouch-Roach Estuary with the aim of restoring it to coastal wetland, nearly two thirds of that area has been turned into flourishing bird and wildlife-rich habitats.
The first phase of the project saw a pioneering partnership between the RSPB and Crossrail bring more the 3 million tonnes of soil excavated from beneath London to Essex by ship to raise the height of the land, build new bunds and create new tidal lagoons, islands and areas of saltmarsh.
Less than three years after the sea wall was breached to allow tidal water onto Wallasea Island for the first time in 400 years, a wealth of birds and other wildlife, such as curlew, lapwing, brown hare, shrill carder bee and skylark, have already begun to benefit.
The new RSPB Wallasea Island nature reserve has also been designed with the future in mind. As the widespread impacts of climate change on nature make themselves felt, the Island’s new habitats should provide the perfect place for once exotic birds such as spoonbill and black-winged stilt to colonise and breed.
Protecting and enriching local communities
Not only is the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project helping to redress the widespread historic loss of coastal habitats, in doing so it is helping deliver benefits local communities in the Crouch and Roach Estuary though reduction in flood risk and providing a new area of wildlife rich accessible coastal land.
RSPB Project Manager Chris Tyas said: “The support of local councillors and council officers at Rochford District Council for the Wallasea Island Wild Coast vision has been important throughout the project. It’s great that the council and other local stakeholders not only recognise the benefits that the project will bring to the local area, but are taking an active interest in helping develop Wallasea Island as a place for people as well as wildlife.”
Gareth Williams, Operations Manager at Viridor Credits, said: “When I visited the site in December, I was impressed with the scale of the project and the works already undertaken by RSPB in transforming arable land into a haven for wildlife. Subsequently, the Viridor Credits Board had no hesitation in pledging our maximum award to ensure that the final stages of this essential project are completed.”
Angela Haymonds, Trust Secretary at Enovert Community Trust, said: "The Trustees were delighted to provide a grant of £70,000 to the RSPB's marsh creation project at Wallasea Island. Once completed, the project will provide habitats for a wonderful array of important wildlife and an amazing place for visitors to come and enjoy."
Enovert Community Trust funding is available for a wide range of projects that bring benefits to local communities. This may include refurbishment of churches or buildings of architectural or historical significance, or general amenity projects, such as improving disabled access or improvements to parks and nature reserves.
Cllr. George Ioannou, Portfolio Holder for Enterprise at Rochford District Council, said: “The completion of the transformation of much of Wallasea Island is a great achievement and brings the opportunity for our residents and visitors to explore the rich coastal heritage of the District. We look forward to continuing to work with the RSPB to help ensure the benefits for our residents and Local Economy from this remarkable project are realised.”