UK's largest ever coastal wetland restoration project nears completion

Rupert Masefield

Saturday 22 September 2018

View of breach in sea defence, Wallasea Island RSPB reserve, Essex, England

Wallasea Island nature reserve is a wetland for the future: designed to offset losses of coastal habitats to predicted sea-level rise and provide homes for wildlife as species are forced to adapt to the effects of climate change.

  • The Wallasea Island Wild Coast project’s restoration of 670 hectares of coastal wetland in Essex will be soon be complete, nearly 10 years after work started.

  • The creation this year of 269 hectares of new lagoons and marshes on the southern part of the island forms the final piece of the puzzle.

  • At an event on Friday attended by project partners, funders and stakeholders, local MP Mark Francois put the finishing touches to a new island to mark the final stage of restoration.

Friday 21 September – Nearly 10 years after work to restore 670 hectares of coastal wetland on the Essex coast, the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project is nearing completion.

Wallasea Island nature reserve is a wetland for the future: designed to offset losses of wildlife-rich coastal habitats such as saltmarsh to sea level rises; and to provide habitat to encourage the return of species that historically bred in the UK, such as spoonbills and Kentish plover, as well as new breeding species like black-winged stilts. 2018 will see the completion of this innovative and ambitious project – the largest of its kind ever undertaken in the UK.

At an event held today, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford and long-time advocate and supporter of the project Mark Francois, shovel in hand, helped to mark the final stage of restoration by putting the finishing touches to a new island for nesting avocets in the middle of what will be a saline lagoon roughly the size of 75 football pitches.

Mark Francois MP: “I am delighted to have been invited to help mark the final stage of this fantastic project to restore Essex’s wild coast, having had the opportunity to see the creation of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast unfold over the last decade.

“Managing our landscapes well for nature in the face of wildlife loss and the effects of climate change is a massive challenge. The scale and scope of the Wild Coast project’s ambition in transforming Wallasea Island, not only creating wetland habitats rich in wildlife, but helping adapt the coast to future sea level rises, shows what is possible when people work together to meet this challenge head on.

“I hope the Wild Coast project will inspire other equally ambitious and innovative solutions to address the impacts of climate change in ways that benefit nature. The legacy of the project is sure to live on in Essex through the wildlife that is already starting to make use of the newly created habitats, and the people who are starting to visit the island in larger and larger numbers to enjoy it and access this invaluable addition to Essex’s natural coastal heritage.”

The restoration to coastal wetland of Wallasea Island’s reclaimed arable landscape started nearly 10 years ago with the partnership between Crossrail and the RSPB. 3 million tonnes of material excavated from beneath London in Europe’s largest civil engineering project was transported to the Essex Coast, where it was used to build a new sea wall and create minutely landscaped islands and lagoons in what would become Jubilee Marsh.

Just 3 years after the tide was allowed back onto this part of the island for the first time in 400 years, wildlife has already started to return: avocets and ringed plovers, wintering brent geese, and birds of prey including merlins and short-eared owls are all a common sight on Wallasea Island today.

Work to restore the final 269 hectares on the southern half of the island began earlier this year, funded by Viridor Credits and Enovert Community Trust. The creation 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 is now in its final stages.

Added to the 399 hectares already restored at Wallasea Island since 2011, the new habitats will complete the UK’s largest coastal wetland restoration – twice the size of the City of London – and the largest mosaic of habitats of its kind in Northern Europe.

Plans to extend the reserve’s 9km network of footpaths will open up even more of the island to visitors in the future, providing access to this newly restored part of Essex’s wild coast and natural heritage.

James Preston, Crossrail: "It really is a privilege to be invited back to Wallasea as the final stage of habitat creation is completed. Crossrail’s need for a home to beneficially reuse three million tonnes of clean excavated material from tunneling, and the RSPB’s need for a supply of material to raise up the island, created a fantastic opportunity to jointly solve a huge logistical challenge and create this amazing environmental wild space and nature haven. Three years after we successfully breached the old sea walls, the tide has continued to flood in twice a day across Jubilee Marsh, and during this time the wild coastal habitat has really taken shape. We look back and remember the challenges we encountered and overcame on the journey to create the largest wetland restoration project in the UK. A true lasting legacy which will benefit generations for years to come.”

Cllr. George Ioannou, Portfolio Holder for Enterprise at Rochford District Council, said: “Rochford District Council is delighted to be part of this special event marking the completion of habitat restoration engineering works. We are very proud to have been a part of making this happen and to see it transformed from the plans that were originally submitted in 2007 to where we are now is truly something special. This is an oasis of natural beauty that few would believe possible and a lasting legacy for generations to come.”

RSPB Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project Manager, Chris Tyas: "It's been fantastic to welcome so many of the Wild Coast project's partners, supporters ans stakeholders back to Wallasea today, as the final stage of restoration nears completion. It has been a long journey to get here from those early first discussions about an idea that has now almost been fully realised - to restore Wallasea Island's wetland habitats for people and wildlife while making the island more resilient to climate change. I'm very proud to have played my small part, but it has been a mighty team effort, and I hope everyone involved shares in that pride with me."

Find out more and plan a visit to Wallasea Island at

Last Updated: Monday 24 September 2018


Coast on a stormy day

Rupert Masefield

Communications Manager, England Policy & Advocacy
07872 814878
Tagged with: Topic: Climate change Topic: Conservation Topic: Habitat conservation Topic: Marine and water Topic: People Topic: Reserves