RSPB Wallasea Island Project

Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project

 What is the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project?

This is a landmark conservation and engineering project, the largest of its type in Europe. This exciting project is working to transform 670 hectares of arable farmland into the coastal marshland it once was. This area is more than double the size of the City of London!

The project is a response to the challenges that climate change poses for the UK’s low-lying coastline and aims to future proof this landscape for people and wildlife.

  • It lies at the heart of an internationally-important estuary, and is a vital part of the Greater Thames landscape. For many, it will be the closest accessible Wild Coast.
  • Once complete it will support important bird species and could even re-establish once lost breeding birds, such as Kentish plovers and black-winged stilts.
  • This project is an example of how amazing things can be achieved through partnership working. Current partners include Crossrail, the Environment Agency, Defra and Natural England. We are currently in the process of searching for more partners to become part of this iconic project and help provide the remainder of the soil required to complete the island.

Crossrail has constructed a temporary jetty in the River Crouch and is using this facility to deliver excavated material from its tunnelling operations deep under London. The first material arrived by ship in August 2012. We expect the first of these three tidal cells will be breached by 2016.

The project builds on the success of the 115 hectares of new saltmarsh and intertidal mud created on the north of the island by Defra in 2006. This area, known as Allfleet’s Marsh, is now jointly managed by the RSPB and Natural England

 What will it involve?

The Wild Coast Project received planning permission from Essex County Council in 2009, after an in-depth consultation period.

The scheme will create new wildlife habitats over the next 10 years. This will include making gaps in the sea walls to allow seawater to flow in and out with the tides.

Crossrail is importing clean, recovered soils by ship to shape the new landform. Raising the land will reduce the volume of seawater entering on each tide. In turn, this will reduce any adverse effects on navigation, shell fisheries and other sea defences. It also means that properties and businesses on the rest of the island will be less vulnerable to flooding.

The whole project requires 7 million m³ of soil, 2.1 million of which will come from Crossrail. To complete this ambitious coastal re-creation we are still looking for the remaining amount of soil and are in the process of talking with potential soil suppliers.

The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project is the largest of its kind in Europe and has attracted lots of interest worldwide. The scheme provides an example of how industry and conservation can work together to create something amazing that will not only benefit wildlife, but future generations for years to come.

 Why the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project is needed?

Four hundred years ago there were 30,000 hectares of wildlife-rich saltmarsh around the Essex coast. Now, saltmarsh is rare, with just 2,500 hectares left. That’s a loss of 39,000 football pitches!

In England, saltmarshes and mudflats are being lost at an alarming rate of 100 hectares a year.

Sadly, this rate of saltmarsh loss will only increase with climate change. Rising sea levels steadily erode the precious mudflats between land and sea and the food-rich environment will be lost to our wildlife forever.

The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project aims to re-create some of this lost landscape and save it, both for the incredible wildlife that relies on it and for the people that relish it for its restorative benefits and for the pleasure of seeing such places exist.

What will it look like?

Once all the work at Wallasea Island is complete it will be a rich mosaic of habitats. From mudflats to saltmarsh to grassy sea walls and lagoons, wildlife including lapwings, avocets and the rare oil beetle will find food a plenty.

As sea levels rise the island will act to future proof the landscape for species that are moving in line with climate change and the island will provide a home for nature as their natural homes start to diminish.

Wallasea Island will become an amazing space for people too, with wildlife spectacles galore and a chance to relax in the wilds of Essex.

Project Update

 Material from the Crossrail project is being used to complete Jubilee Marsh, the first of three inter-tidal cells. Crossrail have now completed the delivery of material to site, with a total of 3.02 million tonnes of clean earth from the construction of tunnels and station below London.  A maximum of five ships were used, delivering a peak of 45,000 tonnes per week.

Around 90% of Jubilee Marsh has now been completed, with placement due to be completed in May. The breaching of the seawalls at this first cell is scheduled for July.

It was recognised early in the consultation process that the management of shipping to avoid potential conflicts with the sailing community was essential.  A monthly liaison meeting has continued to be held in the sailing season between Crouch Harbour Authority, the Joint Sailing Clubs Committee, Crossrail, RSPB and Crossrail’s Wallasea Contractors (BAM Nuttall / Van Oord).

This frequent liaison has helped to manage shipping movements in the most important sailing times, through to a successful conclusion.  These arrangements have worked well and we are grateful for the help received from those involved.

For more information about Crossrail and the RSPB visit www.crossrail.co.uk  /  www.rspb.org.uk