Wallasea Island Project Takes Significant Step Forward as Sea Walls Breached
The creation of Europe’s largest man-made nature reserve, which will transform farmland into coastal marshland using material excavated during the Crossrail project, is one significant step nearer completion.
Wallasea Island Wild Coast project is using more than 3m tonnes of material excavated from London to raise part of the Essex island by an average of 1.5m, to create lagoons across 670 hectares of farmland – an area more than twice the size of the City of London – and restore the marshland it once was 400 years ago.
The first phase of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) 20-year project was completed at the weekend, when new sea walls were successfully breached to allow for tidal flow into the marshland.
Five hundred years ago, there were 30,000 hectares of intertidal saltmarsh, a crucial wildlife habitat and effective sea defense, along the Essex coast. Today, there are just 2,500 hectares.
By 2025, the RSPB aims to have created 148 hectares of mudflats, 192 hectares of saltmarsh and 76 acres of shallow saline lagoons, with about eight miles of coastal walks and cycle routes allowing people to get closer to the island’s wildlife. Wetland restoration on Wallasea began in 2006.
The RSPB said the project would demonstrate, for the first time on a large scale, how to future-proof low-lying coastal areas against expected sea level rises and deliver benefits to wildlife.
Species expected to return to the area in significant numbers include avocet, redshank and lapwing, along with large flocks of Brent geese, dunlin, wigeon and curlew in winter. Plants such as samphire, sea lavender and sea aster are also expected to thrive.
It is hoped the new reserve will provide the perfect habitat for newly colonising species to the UK, such as spoonbills and black-winged stilts.
Almost all – 98% – of excavated material from deep below London, from the Crossrail tunnels, stations and shafts, has been recycled or re-used, with almost half being shipped to Wallasea Island. At its peak, six ships arrived at Wallasea each day, unloading 8,000 tonnes of material. In total, 2,400 shiploads were delivered – the equivalent of 150,000 lorryloads.
But the RSPB requires 10m tonnes to create the reserve and is currently seeking partners to provide the remaining 7m tonnes.
“At a time when nature is in crisis, we believe Wallasea sets a new benchmark showing what’s possible with smart regulation and intelligent partnerships between the private sector and charities,” said Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director.
“By moving spoil from central London to a part of the coast below sea level and vulnerable to flooding, the partnership is allowing the completion of a major transport project which will boost the economy, while providing an area that will become an area of international importance for wildlife. All sectors, including government, now need to exploit this inventiveness to unlock other projects on a similar scale for the benefit of wildlife, people and the economy”.
Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme said: “Crossrail has helped deliver one of Europe’s most significant conservation projects on Wallasea Island. This trailblazing partnership with the RSPB is a key part of Crossrail’s sustainability strategy and demonstrates the benefits that can be achieved when the construction industry and environment groups work together.
“This major new wetland will be a lasting environmental legacy of the Crossrail project for generations to come as well as supporting economic growth and jobs through an increase in tourism to the local area”.
The Essex estuaries are in the top five most important coastal wetlands in the country, and protected by national and European law.
SOURCE: theguardian.com - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/13/wallasea-island-project-takes-significant-step-forward-as-sea-walls-breached
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