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Work has started on the Thames Estuary on Europe’s most ambitious man-made coastal nature project

Thousands of tons of soil excavated from the Crosrail project are being transported by ship to transform Wallasea Island into a wetland, twice the size of the City of London. The nature reserve project near Southend is backed by the RSPB.

It is only miles from the proposed site of the two alternative sites for estuary airports raising more questions about the suitability of the location for an aviation hub.

Crossrail will deliver 4.5 million tonnes of clean earth from the construction of major new rail tunnels under London to help build the nature reserve at Wallasea. The earth will be used to create higher and lower ground to restore the wetland landscape of mudflats, saltmarsh and lagoons last seen 400 years ago.

The RSPB said:” The loss of coastal habitat over the past four centuries has been dramatic. Without projects like Wallasea Island, rising sea levels are threatening to see another 1,000 hectares lost in the next decade. Wallasea Island will provide 670 hectares of secure habitat for wildlife to thrive well into the future and the RSPB predicts a significant increase in the number of birds once the project is completed.”

Dr Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB said: “Wallasea Island will show for the first time on a large scale, how it’s possible to ‘future proof’ low lying coasts against sea level rise caused by climate change. This will deliver benefits to wildlife and provide a wonderful place for people to enjoy. Wallasea Island could now see the return of birds that once bred in England, such as Kentish plovers that were last seen here more than 50 years ago.”

About eight miles of coastal walks and cycle routes will also be created as part of the project, which means that the nature reserve will also become a wonderful place for people to explore and enjoy.

Dr Clarke added: “Many special wildlife sites have been lost in our crowded islands, but through intelligent partnerships there’s great potential to put nature back at a landscape-scale.”

Crossrail has constructed a new jetty and an excavated material handling facility at Wallasea Island. At its peak 10,000 tonnes of material will be unloaded from ships per day.

Crossrail will deliver more than 2,000 ship loads of excavated material to Wallasea Island. The earth will be transported from Crossrail’s western tunnels via freight train from west London to Northfleet in Kent where it will be loaded on to ships. Excavated material will also be loaded onto ships directly from the eastern tunnelling site near Canning Town station in east London, with further material shipped from a storage site on the River Thames at Barking.

Tunnelling for the £15 billion, 73 mile Crossrail line,  which will run from Maidenhead in Berkshire under London to Shenfield in Essex, started at Royal Oak in West London in May.

Story dated September 18th 2012

Pictures: RSPB, Crossrail

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