Europe’s largest man-made coastal reserve was created off Essex on 12 July – as the wall that has protected Wallasea Island for hundreds of years was punctured, allowing sea water to over-run the land.
Conservationists hope that deliberately “breaching” the sea wall will spur a chain reaction of natural development, forming a mosaic of valuable salt marshes, mudflats and lagoons which will attract plants and wildlife.
The wetland should also provide flood protection for the area.
The scheme – which seeks to reverse five centuries of local history by letting the sea to flood a huge stretch of reclaimed coastline – has been described as most ambitious project of its kind.
The island, eight miles north of Southend, is below sea level but has been raised using three million tonnes of soil left over from the construction of London’s new Crossrail service.
Varying amounts of soil were added to different parts of the island to ensure it had plenty of peaks and troughs before the sea water was allowed to surge in on 12 July.
This makes the resulting landscape – of mudflats, saltmarsh and lagoons – more varied meaning it can support a wider variety of wildlife.
Within a fairly brief time – a year or two – we would expect that it would be more or less functioning fully. So it will develop quite quickly.
“With the breach we get sea water entering the site for the first time. In time, the mud that is there should become quite rich in worms, shellfish and other invertebrates. That will attract birds such as redshank and Shelduck and in winter we’re hoping for Brent Geese,” said Grahame Madge, of the RSPB, which is managing the project.
“Within a fairly brief time – a year or two – we would expect that it would be more or less functioning fully. So it will develop quite quickly,” Mr Madge said.
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