The biggest man-made nature reserve in Europe will be created on Wallasea Island, using almost five tonnes of earth taken from London’s Crossrail project.
The soil, excavated from the construction of two 21km rail tunnels under the Capital, will transform 670 hectares of farmland on Wallasea Island, Essex, into a labyrinth of salt marshes, mudflats, lagoons.
RSPB hopes that the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project will see the return of spoonbills and Kentish plovers, as well as avocet, dunlin, redshank, spoonbills and lapwing to the area. Otters, saltwater fish, including bass, herring and flounder, are expected to use the wetland as a nursery, and plants, such as sapphire, sea lavender and sea aster, are expected to thrive.
The aim of this project is to combat the threats from climate change and coastal flooding by recreating the ancient wetland landscape of mudflats and saltmarsh, lagoons and pasture. It will also help to compensate for the loss of such tidal habitats elsewhere in England.
It is believed the island was first reclaimed from the sea by Dutch engineers centuries ago, but it was bulldozed flat 20 years ago to allow wheat and rape-growing. Four centuries ago there were 30,000 hectares of tidal salt marsh along the Essex coast, but today just 2,500 hectares remain. The Essex estuaries are among the most important coastal wetlands in the UK and are protected by national and European law.
Although the reserve will be in development until around 2019, visitors are welcome to come along and view the progress as each phase comes to life and the marshland naturally regenerates.