The Wallasea Island project

Checking out the RSPB website, following my visit last week to Wallasea Island (less than 30 minute drive from my house), I discovered Wallasea Island Wild Coast project is a landmark conservation and engineering scheme for the 21st century, on a scale never before attempted in the UK and the largest of its type in Europe. 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. Once completed, this will provide a haven for a wonderful array of nationally and internationally important wildlife and an amazing place for the local community, and those from further afield, to come and enjoy“.

Linked to this project is the Crossrail project. According to Wikipedia: “Crossrail is a 118-kilometre (73-mile) railway line that is under construction in England. It is due to begin full operation in 2018, serving London and its environs by providing a new east-west route across Greater London. Work began in 2009 on the central part of the line—a tunnel through central London—and connections to existing lines that will become part of Crossrail after several decades of proposals. It is one of Europe’s largest railway and infrastructure construction projects“. The link to the Wallasea Island project is that the earth (mainly London clay) dug out as a result of the Crossrail project, is sent by barge to Wallasea Island and used to help rebuild the sea wall and restore the wetland area. I understand that when that supply is finished there will be other sources of mud sourced from other projects around the country.

To be honest, this is not the sort of subject that normally especially interests me. Although I like visiting areas of remote, natural beauty (and these do exist in Essex), I am not all that into conservation (I should be) and neither am I a bird watcher, but stumbling upon what was going on last week, when my wife and I decided to head out to Wallasea Island for a drive / walk, got me more than a little excited. Most of my life, I have lived in Southend and have visited the nearby marshlands in my neck of the woods on several occasions and it continues to fascinate, even haunt me, but it had often struck me that the area could be improved and access extended. The wetlands could be restored to its former glory and there is scope to extend the wildlife potential. Now it is happening, along with ambitious engineering works that I wasn’t even aware off until last week. And I haven’t been that impressed for a long while.

As for the walk along the sea walk, it was enjoyable. It was good to survey along the River Crouch and look inland toward the rugged wetlands. There were few people around, which is how I like it. Most of the people we did encounter were bird watchers; one could hardly contain his excitement at spotting a marsh harrier and other bird life. Despite signs of the engineering work going on, there was that romantic feeling of being close to raw nature.

We can now add Wallasea Island to our list of local “to do” walks and look forward to developments which, if the RSPB website is anything to go by, will be exciting, and will deliver both a much improved natural asset that will attract both all sorts of wildlife and visitors (though I hope not too many), as well as provide an excellent engineering solution to tackle some important challenges.

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