Charity turns marsh in housing boom area into nature reserve

A marsh in the Thames Estuary will be turned it into a nature reserve after being bought by a charity, to provide a refuge for wildlife and people alike in an area earmarked for the Thames Gateway house-building boom.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds bought 256 hectares of salt marsh and grassland on Canvey Island from supermarket chain Morrisons to establish the reserve, which is to form part of a network of green spaces bridging the Thames from Essex to Kent.

The RSPB hopes the reserve will contribute to the sustainable development of the area by preserving biodiversity while also remaining accessible to the general public.

The Government has singled out the Thames Gateway as a priority area for house-building, with a total of 120,000 new homes planned to be built by 2016.

The marsh on Canvey Island has long been used for grazing, and is home to wading birds such as redshanks and lapwings and wintering wild ducks. The RSPB now wants to irrigate the “rather dry” marsh to improve the environment for birds.

Paul Fisher, the RSPB’s projects manager for south Essex, said: “This secures for future generations the largest remaining green space on Canvey Island – a landscape rich in wildlife and great for people.”

Councillor Pam Challis, leader of Castle Point Borough Council on Canvey Island, said: “We are delighted that the RSPB is now managing this marshland area. It is important for such places to be well managed so that the wildlife has space in which to live and nest. It is also good news as it will preserve this open space for current and future generations to enjoy and also encourage visitors to come to our borough.”

About 80% of the marshes once stretching along the Essex coast have disappeared since the 1930s as the land was dried and transformed into arable, building and landfill sites.

The reserve is covered by Defra’s Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme. Alan Bullivant, leader of Defra’s team of environmental advisers in Essex said: “The Essex Coast and the Thames Estuary is one of the top five coastal wetlands in Britain in terms of its value to bird, invertebrate and plant communities, some of which are nationally rare or scarce.

Mark Easton, store general manager of Morrisons’ Canvey Island, said: “We are pleased to have concluded the deal to sell this land to the RSPB to protect an area of local natural significance.”

The RSPB will now consult with local communities on the nature reserve project.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie