The Wallasea Island Wetlands Project 4 Jul 2006
Coastal flood defences in Essex were breached on July 4th to create the UK’s largest man-made marine wetland in a government-funded scheme to protect endangered wading birds such as avocets.
The £7.5m project involved bulldozing 300m of sea wall at Wallasea Island to create 115 hectares of varied wetland habitat that includes mud flats, salt marsh, saline lagoons and small islands.
The site was expected to flood at high tide on the 4th July.
The scheme fulfils a long-term government commitment to restore lost habitats, such as those destroyed by port development in the 90s in the Medway estuary in Kent and the Orwell estuary in Suffolk.
The new wetland area will provide a winter home to thousands of wading birds including the red shank, dunlin, avocet and ringed plover. Other species such as little turns and Brent geese will also benefit.
The area will also help protect nearby properties by providing a run-off area for flood water.
Explaining the scheme, Barry Gardiner, the biodiversity minister, said: “Salt marsh is rarer than rainforest and is important to people, particularly as a flood and storm defence, and to wildlife.
“Wallasea Wetlands will be a wonderful feeding and roosting habitat for birds such as oystercatchers, avocets and little terns, which have been gradually displaced from the area over the past 50 years, as well as a haven for other rare wildlife.”
He added: “We have balanced the needs of wildlife, flood management, landscape and people to recreate some of the ancient wetlands of East Anglia.”
In the middle ages Essex had an estimated 35,000 hectares of salt marsh but this was gradually lost to agriculture and development. Only 2,000 hectares remain.
Helen Deavin, the conservation officer at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, praised the scheme. “We are really pleased that the sea wall is being breached today. The resulting wetland is going to provide a winter home to thousands of waders,” she said.