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Friendly Flooding

Essex Farm Wins Plaudit for Letting the Sea in

The breaching of an Essex sea wall in October 2002 has created an award-winning 200-acre wildlife-rich salt marsh haven, according to the judges of a major conservation award. This carefully planned scheme, which will save ?500,000 in sea wall maintenance, has boosted internationally important habitats for a range of birds, fish, plants and other wildlife. In recognition of the project`s excellence, the Essex Wildlife Trust`s Abbott`s Hall Farm coastal realignment scheme, on the Blackwater Estuary, delivered in partnership with the Environment Agency, WWF, (Defra) English Nature, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, will tomorrow (Wednesday 2 February 2005) become the winner of the 2005 RSPB/CIWEM Living Wetlands Award. Four centuries ago, salt marshes in Essex covered more than 115 square miles, accommodating flooding and supporting a huge range of species. By 2002, this had shrunk by 90 per cent to an area of less than 3,000 hectares, with 20 per cent lost since 1980 due to coastal squeeze. The National Biodiversity target is to create 100 hectares of salt marsh each year. With 40 hectares, the Abbott`s Hall scheme provides a shining example of the great a contribution a single project can make towards achieving conservation targets.

[Considerable preparation was necessary prior to breaching the old sea wall, involving co-ordination and co-operation from a number of agencies. At the physical level, spur sea walls were constructed on the borders of the farm to protect neighbouring properties. New creek systems were installed to promote formation of the salt marsh, and a freshwater protection bund was constructed for an existing pond to provide a habitat for great crested newts. A freshwater lake of 5 acres was also constructed.]The new wetland is providing a new haven for thousands of species, including many of the UK`s most threatened, as listed under the Biodiversity Action Plan. Before the salt marsh creation, winter-visiting Brent geese were feasting on crops behind the sea walls, bringing them into conflict with farmers. However, the salt marshes now have an abundance of eel-grass, the birds` favoured food, which by the winter of 2003 had attracted over 1700 geese. Hundreds of other wading birds and ducks also arrived at the site soon after the wetland was created. [Birds over wintering included teal, widgeon, mallard, spotted redshank, black-tailed godwit, little egrets, Brent geese, hen harrier, and golden plover. Breeding birds of note on the re-alignment include Shelduck, oystercatcher, avocet, redshank, skylark and yellow wagtail. On the new lake there are also Pochard and tufted duck.]Birds including skylark and lapwing, and water voles all have breeding populations on the site. One of the site`s most bizarre colonists has been the lagoon sea slug, and the new salt marsh supports sea hog`s fennel, one of the rarest coastal plants in Britain. In addition, at least 10 species of fish, including bass and herring, are frequenting the area as it reverts to a wetland paradise.The Abbott`s Hall Farm scheme, which includes facilities for visitors, has attracted thousands of wildlife fans since the site was opened to the public in April last year. Ruth Davis, Head of Water Policy at the RSPB, said: Coastal habitats in the UK are disappearing at an alarming rate and it is beyond the capacity of even all the conservation bodies together to redress the balance. Partnership schemes such as Abbott`s Hall and the RSPB reserve at Freiston Shore, in Lincolnshire, are showing the way forward. But many more of these projects will be needed in the future to maintain our coastal wildlife. Justin Taberham, Director of Policy at CIWEM, said: This scheme solves in one go the problem of decreasing space for wildlife, recreation and flood waters. It is an excellent example of how consultation, imagination and environmental objectives can work together for biodiversity and the public interest.John Hall, Director of Essex Wildlife Trust said: What tremendous news. We are absolutely delighted with this award, which recognises that you can create important coastal wetlands and improve coastal defences thanks to the Environment Agency, WWF, English Nature, the Heritage Lottery, local people and everyone in Essex Wildlife Trust pulling together. What a struggle ? but by jove, it was worth it!Two other projects were commended by the judges:

* Knottingley Flood Alleviation Scheme and Wetland Creation Project in Yorkshire was recognised for the measurable benefits it provided despite its small size, and its good restoration of flood plains. It was previously Commended for CIWEM`s 2004 World of Difference Award;
* The creation and rehabilitation of stream and wetland features at Tittesworth Reservoir in Staffordshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, demonstrated good community involvement and contribution to biodiversity.

The Abbott`s Hall project partnership includes the Environment Agency, English Nature, WWF, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Winstred Hundred Local Parish. Defra supports the environmental schemes on the farm.

4th July 2014