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Wallasea Island Case Study: Why was the Wallasea Island Project developed?

Outline plan of the proposed Wallasea Island North Bank Realignment Scheme

Wallasea Island is an area of 115 hectares of reclaimed wetlands located on the Crouch Estuary in Essex. Five hundred years ago there were 30,000 hectares of intertidal saltmarshes around the Essex coast, compared with 2,500 hectares today.

In the 15th century the Dutch constructed a sea wall and drained the land at Wallasea for agriculture. At the end of the 20th Century the sea wall fell into disrepair at the same time as the risk of flooding increased.

The Wallasea Island Project is an example of a new approach to the management of floods. The more traditional approach of building hard defences such as sea walls is being replaced where appropriate by managing the land in a more sustainable way:

  • hard engineering strategies are usually costly to build and maintain and can have a visual impact on the landscape
  • soft engineering strategies such as beach nourishment and managed realignment have less impact on the environment, are more sustainable and need less maintainence

Managed realignment has a number of benefits:

  • reduces the cost of hard defences costs by shortening the overall length of defences to be maintained
  • recreates river, estuary or coastal habitats and uses them to absorb wave energy and store water in times of flood
  • creates natural habitats or replaces habitats lost elsewhere

This project has been designed to create the UK's largest man-made marine wetland. It uses realignment involving the construction of a new sea wall along the length of the north bank of the island, then allowing the land in front to be inundated by the sea. This widens the area of intertidal habitat, which is good for wildlife and recreation as well as helping to manage flood risk.

In the 1990s large areas of wetland at Lappel Bank in the Medway estuary in Kent and Fagbury Flats in the Orwell estuary in Suffolk were drained and developed for ports. The Wallasea Island Project has been designed to compensate for the loss of this area of marine wetlands, mudflat and saltmarsh. The project will help prevent the decline of wild and endangered birds caused by the drainage and development of the former sites. An attractive environment for local people has also been created that would not have a negative impact on existing businesses or leisure activities.

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