Navigation Dredgings Help Create UK's Largest Man-Made Wetland
A sea wall at Wallasea Island in Essex in the UK was deliberately breached in early July, creating the UK's largest man-made marine wetland. The UK Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (DEFRA) Wallasea Wetlands Creation Project is creating a 115 hectare wetland to replace similar bird habitats lost to development during the 1990s. The wetlands will also improve flood defences, provide for better fish nurseries, and create opportunities for recreation.
'At Wallasea, we have balanced the needs of wildlife, flood management, landscape and people to recreate some of the ancient wetlands of East Anglia, he said, 'Saltmarsh is rarer than rainforest, and is important to people, particularly as a flood and storm defence, and to wildlife.
Hundreds of thousands of wetland birds rely entirely on the Essex salt marsh for their food each winter. Wallasea Wetlands will be a wonderful feeding and roosting habitat for birds like Oystercatchers, Avocets and Little Terns, which have been gradually displaced from the area during the last 50 years, as well as creating a haven for other rare wildlife.
The wetlands will also provide additional flood and storm protection. Damaging storm waves lose their energy as they pass over the area, and the new sea defences will provide better protection than the old ones, which were in very poor condition.'
Wetlands, including salt marsh and mud flats, are breeding and roosting places for important bird species, as well as habitat for rare plants, insects and fish.
They are also breeding and nursery areas for aquatic wildlife, such as bass, mullet, flatfish and herring.
They act as buffer zones that absorb wave energy and protect the coast from storm damage and flooding.
Project manager Mark Dixon said, 'Creating this wetland has been a major feat of engineering.
More than 600,000 tons of non-polluted navigation dredgings that would otherwise have been dumped at sea have been used to create this habitat. A project like this is only possible with the support and cooperation of everyone involved. The involvement of Wallasea Farms, Harwich Haven Authority, English Nature, the Environment Agency, the RSPB and the local community has been absolutely invaluable.'
New flood defences along the northern bank of the island have been built inland of the shoreline and the current, weaker sea walls have been breached. A total of 330m of existing sea wall were breached in an operation involving around 25 large hydraulic excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks. The project has created 115 hectares of wetland, including seven artificial islands, saline lagoons, mudflats, new public footpaths, and 4km of sea wall.
Essex originally had 35,000 hectares of salt marsh, but enclosure for agriculture and development between the 16th and 19th centuries destroyed much of this habitat. Only 2,000 hectares remain.
The project has been delivered to time and cost (£7.5m).
DEFRA worked closely with the Environment Agency, RSPB, English Nature, Harwich Haven Authority and landowners Wallasea Farms Ltd, who had serious concerns about the stability of their existing flood defences. The project started in 2004 and will be complete by August 2006. It will be subject to intensive independent monitoring until 2011.
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