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Giant nature reserve to be built with earth dug up from under London

The rebuilt wetlands will form Europe's largest coastal wildlife reserve.

The RSPB

Posted on behalf of Nicky Guttridge.

Construction has begun on a new nature reserve in the Thames Estuary, east of London, a project that will create the largest human-made coastal reserve in Europe. The venture is headed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) with help from Crossrail, a huge rail project in London, and will put 4.5 million tonnes of earth excavated from rail tunnels being dug under the city to good use.

Crossrail will displace some 6 million tonnes of earth. The majority of this will be repurposed to build-up Wallasea Island, situated in the Thames Estuary, Essex. The island is now about two metres below sea level and is used as low-lying farmland, but the earth supplied by Crossrail will help to raise the site and create a 670-hectare expanse of mudflats, wetlands and marshes. This aims to attract and house tens of thousands of migratory and rare birds, amongst other wildlife such as otters, herring and saltwater plants. The reserve is expected to be completed in 2020.

Officially launched today by the UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, the reserve forms part of a government plan to recreate 3,600 hectares of habitat by 2015 — an attempt to tackle the losses of land caused by coastal flooding and climate change. The RSPB warns that much coastal habitat has been lost over the past 400 years, and that a further 1,000 hectares could be lost in the next decade, owing rising sea levels. This would threaten the habitats of many bird species and marine life.

“The primary purpose of the reserve is to provide habitat for wildlife, rather than for scientific research,” says Nik Shelton of the RSPB. “But there will be regular surveys to monitor progress.”

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