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Thames Gateway?s Green Future Starts To Take Shape

Grazing Marshes to become reserve?

A large area of Canvey Island in Essex is to become a nature reserve after it was bought by the RSPB. The 256 hectares of saltmarsh and grassland will now form part of a huge network of special places for wildlife straddling the Thames in Essex and Kent. Together the RSPB hopes they will help to provide the ‘green infrastructure’ needed for the Government’s Thames Gateway development. The development will see a total 120,000 new homes in East London, south Essex and north Kent. They will form the lion’s share of the 200,000 homes the Government wants to see built by 2016 in its four ‘growth areas’.

By helping to create a ‘green grid’ of open space across the Gateway the RSPB hopes to provide a foundation for the sustainable development of the Gateway, making it a healthy and attractive place to live in and to visit. The new reserve on Canvey Island, together with 30 hectares of saltmarsh at neighbouring Benfleet Creek, has been bought from supermarket giant Morrisons.The purchase was made possible by generous financial support of the East of England Development Agency, Cleanaway Pitsea Marshes Trust* and the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Thames Gateway Programme.

* Cleanaway Pitsea Marshes Trust was established nine years ago to manage the tax credits generated by the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme (LTCS). The Pitsea and Canvey Marshes Trusts merged in April 2005 – to benefit community and environmental projects in Basildon and Castle Point. More than £5.8 million has been spent on 150 projects. Initial enquiries about Trust funding should be addressed to the Project Officer on 01708 520061Most of the land is grazing marsh and will link with similar RSPB owned grazing marshes at Pitsea, Vange and Fobbing. Plans for reserves covering 118 hectares at Vange Marshes were announced in December. As well as protecting this as open space, the RSPB hopes to bring more water onto the presently rather dry marsh, improving it for breeding wading birds such as redshanks and lapwings and for wintering wild ducks.

The saltmarsh at Benfleet supports a high density of nesting redshanks. Plans remain to be finalised however and the RSPB will be consulting locally about the future management of the land. It has been managed as grazing land for generations and this, says the RSPB, has laid the foundations for a sustainable future. As well as protecting the land from future development, the RSPB hopes to increase its value for wildlife and improve access for the local community and visitors.

Paul Fisher, the RSPB’s South Essex Projects Manager, said: “This secures for future generations the largest remaining green space on Canvey Island – a landscape rich in wildlife and great for people.“

About 80 per cent of the coastal grazing marsh in Essex has been lost since the 1930s, due to a combination of conversion to arable, building and landfill sites. But a large and valuable area remains on the Thames.Councillor Pam Challis, Leader of Castle Point Borough Council, said: "We are delighted that the RSPB is now managing this marshland area. It is important for such places to be well managed so that the wildlife has space in which to live and nest. It is also good news as it will preserve this open space for current and future generations to enjoy and also encourage visitors to come to our Borough."

Doug Benjafield, Chairman of Cleanaway Pitsea Marshes Trust, adds: “The Cleanaway Trusts have been longstanding and significant financial supporters of the work of the RSPB on the urban fringes of south east Essex, particularly in areas adjacent to Cleanaway landfill sites. Protecting this land from development – in perpetuity – is helping the long-term nature conservation interests of the area. This approach to partnership working provides the most sustainable option to maximise the benefits for both wildlife and controlled public access.” Mary Spence, Chief Executive Officer of the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership said “The successful acquisition of this valuable site further underlines the commitment of the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership to the protection and enhancement of the rich environment of the area, and our desire to make it accessible for local people.”

Richard Ellis, chair of the East of England Development Agency said "EEDA has invested heavily in the Thames Gateway to assist with economic development and future growth of the area but we recognise our investment needs to achieve more than create new businesses. We are working to protect the environment and preserve the ecology of Canvey Island, a goal which can only be achieved by working with our partners to create truly sustainable communities." The new reserve is already in the Essex Coast Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme run by Defra's Rural Development Service (RDS). Alan Bullivant, leader of Defra’s team of environmental advisers in Essex said: "The Essex Coast and the Thames Estuary is one of the top five coastal wetlands in Britain in terms of its value to bird, invertebrate and plant communities, some of which are nationally rare or scarce. The ESA scheme and the new Environmental Stewardship scheme help farmers and landowners manage this resource for the benefit of the wildlife and ultimately for the rest of us. We are confident that the RSPB's management at Canvey Island make this attractive coastal grassland even more valuable for wildlife.”Mark Easton, store general manager of Morrisons’ Canvey Island said: “We are pleased to have concluded the deal to sell this land to the RSPB to protect an area of local natural significance.”

Graham Mee, leader of the RSPB’s South Essex local group said: "Coming so soon after the new nature reserves at Vange, to hear about the purchase of large areas of Canvey Marshes is just amazing. The local group looks forward to helping with the new reserve and to an exciting future for nature in south Essex.”NB Thames Gateway: South Essex became part of the Thames Gateway in 2001, with a population of 650,000 people in the area covered by the Councils of Thurrock, Basildon, Castle Point and Southend-on-Sea. The Thames Gateway is a government Growth Area – the largest economic regeneration zone in the UK. The RSPB is working with many partners within the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership to ensure that any development is sustainable – especially through collaboration in the Greengrid. The Greengrid sets out to make sure that there is green space – rich in wildlife and accessible to people – throughout the South Essex sub-region and that these areas are connected together. The RSPB plans to create new nature reserves here and to introduce many people – both local and new visitors – to the wealth of wildlife and landscape. The RSPB believes that its role as a green developer will protect and improve our natural resources, set the scene for sustainable economic growth and create a healthy and vibrant fabric for work, rest and play.

4th July 2014