The Wallasea Island Wild Coast project has completed its first phase after the sea walls around the island were breached this weekend to allow for tidal flow into the marshland.
The island, located north of Southend-on-Sea in Essex, was originally bulldozed flat 20 years ago to grow wheat and rapeseed, and was surrounded by tall, grassy levees. But now being two meters below sea level it has a one in five risk of catastrophic flooding each year.
“It would have been enormously expensive to keep up the flood defences, with a real risk of major disaster,” Owen Paterson, the environmental secretary confirmed.
This led to the RSPB coming up with its 20 year plan to restore the 1,655 acres of farmland back into the coastal marshland it once was 400 years ago. By 2025 they aim to have created 148 hectares of mudflats, 192 hectares of saltmarsh and 76 acres of shallow saline lagoons. As well as coastal walks and cycle routes so people can get close to the wildlife on the island.
With the help of Crossrail, soil excavated from new rail tunnels in London will transform the flat land into shallow lagoons, similar to other RSPB reserves.
Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail chief executive, said: “Crossrail has helped deliver one of Europe’s most significant conservation projects on Wallasea Island.”
Over the weekend sea water flooded into the newly created lagoon when the existing sea defences were breached by digger, which the RSPB described as a “significant milestone”. Nature will now take its course and salt marsh vegetation should start to grow.
Once completed, the reserve will provide a haven for both national and international wildlife, as well as a place “for the local community, and those from further afield, to come and enjoy,” says the RSPB.
Species they hope to attract back to the area include avocet, redshank and lapwing, as well as Brent geese, dunlin and curlew in the winter. Plant species such as samphire, sea lavender and sea aster are also expected to thrive.
The RSPB also hopes that the new reserve will see the return of populations of spoonbills and Kentish plovers, as well as enticing saltwater fish like bass, herring and flounder, which will in turn attract seals.
As well as providing nature a home, the new sea banks and salt marsh will provide a cheaper, more sustainable alternative to concrete barriers to absorb wave energy and help maintain sea defences.
The sea wall footpath is open at all times, so you can go along and view the progress for free as each phase is completed.
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