Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Marine Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA
 Groynes on coastline in low light, Wallasea Island RSPB reserve, Essex, England


The UK coastal landscape is amongst the most dramatic and diverse of any, but it is changing.

Four hundred years ago, the Essex coast was a wild and stunning place, a haven for wildlife and a source of livelihood for local communities. Sadly, today, less than one-tenth of this wild coast remains. Past land claim for agriculture and accelerating coastal erosion with rising sea levels have seen the area of intertidal salt marsh on this coast reduced by more than 91 per cent in the past 400 years. A truly staggering figure.

Prior to being enclosed by the current sea walls, Wallasea 'Island' was made up of five separate saltmarsh islands - each with dwellings and managed as separate grazing enterprises. These areas of saltmarsh were progressively enclosed by sea defences, eventually developing the current island shape. Some small-scale arable areas were present periodically but the area was largely managed with sheep as Essex coastal grazing marsh until the drainage/conversion to arable took place from the 1930s.

Our Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project has transformed this island back into a magical intertidal coastal marshland. The planning, the talking and the actions involved in making this project come to life demonstrate how we are helping the coast and its wildlife adapt in the face of climate change. We have created a rich area, not only for wildlife, but for people too – the benefits of which will be felt throughout the local community and much further afield.

We looked at a variety of options for how best to carry out this project. After careful consultation and examination, a managed realignment option was deemed the most appropriate, providing the low land level could be raised. In early 2008, we were approached by Crossrail - a British project to build major new railway connections under central London - who were seeking a beneficiary to reuse the clean spoil from their tunnelling.

Managed realignment is an intertidal habitat creation technique, using breaches (holes) in the sea wall to allow the sea in to recreate intertidal habitats - the habitats you get are dependent on the height of the land being flooded. This option seemed perfect for the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project and enabled the design work to focus on the more sustainable managed realignment option. The material from the Crossrail partnership helped transform nearly 170ha of arable land into a mix of lagoons, saltmarsh and mudflats. 1,500 acres of tidal wildlife habitat.

The new habitats created through this remarkable project now support a stunning array of nationally and internationally important bird populations, as well as a host of other wildlife. This new, wild coast gives visitors a chance to experience a rich, wonderful environment full of biodiversity.



Why is it special?

The site sits within an internationally important estuary, close to the Thames Gateway - one of Europe's largest economic regeneration areas. It has created a huge expanse of habitat for wildlife and birds, whose existing habitats are being damaged and lost because of climate change. The range of habitats recreated on the island will include mudflats, saltmarsh, saline lagoons and brackish marsh.

Wallasea Island lies within the Crouch and Roach estuaries. The international importance of this area has been recognised by European designations as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its wintering Brent Geese and waterfowl assemblage, and as Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its intertidal habits and as a wetland of International importance through the Ramsar designation.

The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project will create more space for nature as intertidal habitats elsewhere within the estuary continue to be lost from rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

The site allows visitors to access some wild coast of Essex allowing them to reconnect with their coastal heritage, and provide an area of open space and quiet enjoyment of nature. 

View of breach in sea defence, Wallasea Island RSPB reserve, Essex, England

Our position

This project was considered not only timely, but vital. If we had let nature do its own thing and allowed an unmanaged breach of the sea walls to occur, a huge volume of sea water would enter the estuary exceeding its capacity. This increased flow would have lead to erosion and major disruption to any commercial or amenity use.

By making a managed realigmnet area, we have breached the seawall in a managed and planned way.  The Croaarail material will raise the height of the land reducing the amount of water incoming on the tides and  new sea walls prevent tidal flooding on the western part of the island.

Our public consultations with Local Authorities, Yacht Clubs and local communities helped us develop the design and we have incorporated many of the suggestions we received into the final design which received planning consent in July 2009. We worked with all parties involved to create the habitats and extend public access, proving that the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project really can benefit everyone.


  • May 2021
    Caroline’s Hide opened. Total trail length is now over 15km.
  • December 2020
    Visitor numbers have increased to over 30,000.
  • November 2018
    Water let into the Beagle Lagoons in the south and spilling onto Lytag Marsh to the east.
  • March 2017
    Visitor numbers for 12 months to end March 2017 were 21,000, representing a 40 per cent increase on the previous year  
  • October 2016
    Water allowed into new lagoon/creek habitats in Cell 5
  • June 2016
    Work started on water control structures in Cell 5
  • October 2015
    Works completed on phase II water vole mitigation habitat. Ground works completed on lagoons, creeks and bunds in Cell 5.
  • July 2015
    Seawalls breached in three locations to allow water into Cell 1, for the first time (in a controlled way) for more than 400 years
  • May 2015
    Placement of material to create habitats in Cell 1 completed
  • March 2015
    Crossrail completed importation by sea of three million tonnes of fill
  • June 2014
    Works started on the principal Cell 5 lagoon
    May 2013
  • Cell 3 ground works started, with material generated used as fill in Cell 1
  • August 2012
    First material placed in Cell 1 using 3D ground model to ensure habitat creation is accurate to the neared 2cm
  • July 2012
    First shipment of material from Crossrail tunnels arrives on Wallasea
  • June 2012
    Unloading facility commissioning
  • April 2011
    Construction of unloading facility machinery recommences
  • September 2011
    Complete the final phase of land purchase
  • August 2011
    BamNuttall start on-site element of work – with completion of unloading facility expected in June 2012
  • February 2011
    Crossrail appoint BamNuttall to construct unloading facility
  • October-December 2010
    Design work completed for the saline lagoon in Cell 5 - construction scheduled for autumn 2012
  • September 2010
    Wild bird cover created at west of site (see the approved scheme plan download to the side of this page)
  • September 2010
    Acquired second piece of land
  • February 2010–April 2011
    20 submissions made under 16 of the planning conditions – extra detail required ahead of the start of the main works
  • December 2009
    Submission to Essex County Council planners for approval under conditions relating to unloading facility (see plans under download section)
  • December 2009
    Application made for FEPA/Coastal Protection Act Licences for unloading facility (see plans under download section)
  • November 2009
    An application for a works License for the unloading facility has been made to Crouch Harbour Authority. The three plans accompanying this application can be seen under the downloads section
  • September 2009
    Acquire first piece of land
  • July-September 2009
    Enabling works completed, with construction of bund base for conveyor belt and phase one of the water vole mitigation habitat
  • July 2009
    Planning consent is granted following completion of a planning agreement
  • December 2008
    A planning application is submitted to Essex County Council and we hold drop-in sessions for people to view and discuss our plans in the same month. We encourage interested parties to make their views known to the County Council through the public consultation on the application
  • November 2008
    We announce our intention to work with Crossrail as a potential supplier of material to build up the island. We spend a total of £750,000 on studies to prove that the project is feasible and acceptable both socially and environmentally
  • 2006
    Defra creates a managed realignment site along the north of Wallasea Island. This is to compensate for the intertidal habitat lost elsewhere in southeast England. We win the tender to manage this site for five years for March 2007
  • 2000
    We start talks with Wallasea Farms about our vision and this eventually leads to us signing an option to buy the land from them


Submission for approval of detail to Essex Council Council planners. PDF, 565Kb

Wallasea Island Berth location plan

Crouch Harbour Authority works license unloading facility plan. PDF, 693Kb

Unloading facility berth and conveyor - proposed general arrangement

FEPA/Coastal Protection Act submission. PDF, 573Kb

Conveyor route