Essex coast to become bird haven

Farmland in Wallasea Island could be transformed into wetlands in one of the largest projects of its kind in Europe.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) plans to restore the large stretch of the Essex coast near the Thames Gateway into a wildlife haven and demonstrate how land can be managed to adapt to climate change and sea level rises.

The project is expected to cost about £12m – which the RSPB still needs to raise before work can start – and the charity hopes it will be complete by 2015.

The site, which is two and a half times the size of the City of London, is expected to flood within the next 50 years as the current sea wall falls into disrepair.

RSPB chiefs hope that the project will preserve the land as a feeding ground for birds, as wetlands on the Essex coast have reduced from 30,000 hectares about 400 years ago to just 2,500 hectares today.

Project manager Mark Dixon told edie: “Birds come to do their ‘winter shopping’ here but year on year their supermarkets are closing.

“If we don’t do something, they will have nowhere to go.

“These are birds that come here in their hundreds and thousands and it is the Thames location that they come to.

“It is essentially a massive shopping mall that we are creating for the birds.”

If the RSPB can raise the funds needed for the project and secure the large number of planning and environmental consents needed, it will buy the land from the owners Wallasea Farms in 2009 and begin the first phase of the work on the eastern part of the site.

When completed, it is expected to contain a mixture of mudflats, saltmarsh, saline lagoons, grazing marsh and pasture.

The RSPB also plans to create more than 15km of public access routes to allow the public to enjoy the site.

Kate Martin

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