Work to improve and create 59 hectares of new wildlife habitat is about to begin on the RSPB's West Canvey Marsh nature reserve as part of a £250k WREN-funded wetland project in the Thames Estuary, with diggers due to break ground later this month.
The improved area of the reserve will form part of a 'green corridor' spanning the north and south shores of the Thames Estuary, which will see the creation and restoration of more than 80 hectares of coastal and floodplain grazing marsh - an area equivalent to more than 100 football pitches.
Coastal and floodplain grazing marsh is a wildlife rich and rare habitat. In the UK it supports internationally important numbers of wintering wildfowl, as well as important breeding populations of wading birds, and other species, such as water vole, great crested newt and scarce emerald damselfly.
Since the 1930s, coastal and floodplain grazing marsh has declined by as much as 64 percent across the Great Thames Estuary.
At West Canvey Marsh, excavators will be used to dig new pools and channels in the reserve's grassland, which will provide muddy edges for waders such as snipe, lapwing and redshank to feed in and wetter ditches for water voles. The soil generated will be used to build bunds around the excavated area to retain water, creating a new wetland wildlife habitat.
Natalie Holt, Senior Sites Manager for the RSPB South Essex reserves, said: "We are really excited to see the diggers arrive. It will be great to see our part of this fantastic project coming to life, knowing that we're helping make more places where nature can thrive. It's not just about the wildlife though. Green space is really important for the people who live here too and West Canvey Marsh is the largest such space on Canvey Island, so we want to make sure people can get the maximum benefits and enjoyment from it.
"The work we are doing will give visitors new opportunities to have up-close encounters with wildlife, which is so valuable in today's world, where finding the time and space to get out and enjoy nature seems to be more and more difficult."
Two new hillocks, made from the earth excavated by the diggers, will function as raised viewpoints overlooking the newly landscaped wetland. From these vantage points - one near the car park, and one deeper into the reserve - visitors will be able to see ducks, waders and other wildlife much nearer than was previously possible.
Handling a potentially explosive situation
Preparing for the work to start has not been all plain sailing. In September 2015, contractors embarked on a survey to search for any unexploded Second World War ordnance there might have been lying hidden on the site.
Natalie Holt: "We were relieved when we were given the all clear in March this year. The survey dug up lots of agricultural equipment and construction metal, but no unexploded bombs!"
Looking out for the local residents
The nature reserve's team of staff and volunteers have also been busy surveying the wildlife that lives in the area where the work is taking place to make sure no rare and protected species will be present when the diggers arrive, and breeding birds will have finished nesting by the time the work begins.
Amongst the many local residents, water voles in particular have been found to be thriving at West Canvey Marsh, and this project will further enhance their habitat.
Managing water and drainage
As part of the works, new pipes are being installed to move water around within the reserve to where it is needed and to control water levels. The pipes are not connected to watercourses outside the reserve and will not affect drainage or water management across the rest of Canvey Island.
Natalie Holt: "Managing water and drainage is very important on Canvey Island, and while this particular project won't have an impact on water management outside of the reserve, we will continue to work closely with the local authority and other agencies and stakeholders to help improve water management and drainage across Canvey Island."
The 'Enriching the marsh landscape project' has been funded by the WREN FCC Biodiversity Action Fund work and will also see similar wetland improvement works carried out on the opposite shore of the Thames Estuary at RSPB Northward Hill nature reserve, near Rochester in Kent. [Note 3.]Organisations and community groups requiring funding for beneficial projects should visit www.wren.org.uk or contact WREN on 01953 717165
1. The WREN-funded 'Greater Thames Marshes - Enriching its Marsh Landscape' project aims to mitigate the loss and fragmentation of important coastal and floodplain grazing marsh habitat by restoring and maintaining an area of 82.6 hectares of coastal and floodplain grazing marsh at RSPB West Canvey Marsh in Essex (59.1 ha) and RSPB Norhtward Hill in Kent (23.5 ha).
2. All work being carried out at RSPB West Canvey Marsh nature reserve as part of the 'Enriching the marsh landscape project' has received planning permission and other watercourse consents from Castle Point Borough Council and Essex County Council.
The RSPB has been working closely with the Environment Agency, Essex County Council and Anglian Water to improve drainage and understanding of drainage across Canvey Island, including as part of Essex County Council's 'Where does water go?' project, and the Integrated Urban Drainage study for Canvey Island.
3. WREN is a not-for-profit business that awards grants for community, biodiversity and heritage projects from funds donated by FCC Environment through the Landfill Communities Fund. Greater Thames Estuary - Enriching Marsh Landscape is one of 16 projects to receive a share of the £2.7m awarded by WREN's FCC Biodiversity Action Fund this year.FCC Environment is the leading UK waste and resource management company and is part of a global group with a strong heritage in providing services for communities and business. Its vision is to be the environmental company of choice, delivering change for a sustainable future. It employs 2,400 people and operates more than 200 facilities across England, Scotland and Wales. FCC Environment donates the LCF tax credits that are generated by its operations to WREN, in order to add value to the environmental and social infrastructure of the communities around landfill sites. www.fccenvironment.co.uk