The UK coastal landscape is amongst the most dramatic and diverse of any, but it is 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 accelerating coastal erosion with rising sea levels have seen the area of intertidal salt marsh on this coast reduced by more than 91 per cent 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.