Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project – A landmark conservation and engineering scheme

Published: 29 November 2016
Last edited: 21 February 2023
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This habitat restoration project aimed to offset coastal habitat loss while reducing flood risk and transforming an area from a carbon source to sink. Phase 1 imported tunneling spoil from a new rail network under London to raise 165ha of low-productivity agricultural land and create 235ha of costal lagoon and grazing marsh habitat. Landscape engineering enabled controlled sea wall breaches and sea inundation, and biodiversity-rich habitat creation. Phase 2 will develop 280ha new habitat.


North Europe
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Salt marsh
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Coastal and marine spatial management
Outreach & communications
Species management
Loss of Biodiversity
Sea level rise
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
Aichi targets
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030


Wallasea Island, United Kingdom


The project responded to the impending threat of sea level rise and growing risk of floods to the local population, which could lead to future losses and damages. Regarding support, the public was largely content to create habitat, but there were a few objections which initially challenged the project implementation (principally to the loss of agricultural land and the potential impacts of recreational sailing and oyster fisheries).


The primary beneficiaries are birds, fish, invertebrates and plants benefit from the restored ecosystem. The local community benefits from opportunities for recreation and education, and the local landowners are protected from future flooding events.

How do the building blocks interact?

Extensive public engagement and consultation processes were carried out during the planning and incep-tion phases (building block 1) in order to address stakeholder concerns and generate support for the project. An innovative partnership between public and private entities also contributed to the projects success (building block 2) by thinking ‘outside the box’ and developing win-win solutions within the field of landscape engineering. Finally, given the complex and novel character of this solution, a technical advisory panel was established to ensure a sound planning and implementation (building block 3).


The project safeguards communities and local wildlife from rising sea levels, including providing a habitat for the arrival of species from further south in Europe, such as Black-winged Stilt, which are expected to colonise southern England as the climate continues to change. It also created education and recreation opportunities for the surrounding community and serves as a tourist destination more broadly. The project was designed on the basis of an estimated 1m of sea level rise over the next 100 years, and is intended to be ‘climate proof.’ It is anticipated that the project will be robust, whether sea level rise is very rapid or rather slow. If sea levels rise rapidly, there will be a lot of coastal erosion and a lot of sediment in the system. Consultation events, discussions with interested parties and the instigation of a Local Liaison Group combined with education about the potential impacts of climate change and the risks of sea level rise have ensured widespread support for the project.


I started working on the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project in 2000, taking on the Project Manager role in 2008. We finally breached the seawalls of Phase one of the project on 11 July 2015, creating the 165ha Jubilee Marsh. The sight of water entering Wallasea Island for the first time (in a controlled way) for around 450 years was an amazing experience. The water moved very slowly over the ground at around 1m/second but very soon the whole area was covered and behaving exactly as planned. 16 months on, the site is supporting around 15,000 wintering birds, with the expectation that the area will support around 22,000 birds in winter three.

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Chris Tyas RSPB

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Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)