Flood defences pass stiff test with flying colours

Steart Marshes at high tide on 30 September. The Bristol Channel is to the left and the River Parrett to the right. C: Sacha Dench, WWT

The British coast’s newest and largest natural flood defence scheme, carried out by Team Van Oord on behalf of the Environment Agency, has proved its worth by comfortably fending off the biggest tides in more than a decade.

Located next to the Severn Estuary, the Steart Coastal Management Project will help protect homes and businesses from flooding due to climate change and rising sea levels, and has established a new nature reserve.

A new channel was created to deliberately flood 300 hectares (740 acres) of land to provide much-needed habitat for wading birds and wildfowl, and for water voles and great crested newts.

‘Steart Marshes’, now managed by the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT), provides a natural buffer between houses and the tides of the Bristol Channel, which are the second biggest in the world. On a high autumn tide the marshes hold around 4.2 million cubic metres of water, sufficient to fill the Albert Hall 50 times over.

In their first year, the marshes have quickly become a haven for wildlife and a popular place for local walkers and birdwatchers.

Alys Laver, who manages Steart Marshes for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, said: “High tides like we’ve had today (30 Sept) would have given the old sea wall a battering. Instead, this massive quantity of water has just been swallowed up by the marshes. It goes to show what can be achieved by working with nature.

“Quite a few of the local villagers came down to check out the tide. It’s been beautiful and we were treated to the sight of a flock of egrets picking fish out of the water right in front of the hide. The wonderful thing is that it’s created this space for wildlife, as well as protecting homes and businesses.”

Richard Cox, from the Environment Agency, said: “The Environment Agency’s objectives in building the Steart scheme were to improve flood defences locally and elsewhere in the Severn Estuary while creating high quality habitats for wildlife and improved public access. We are pleased to see the site developing as intended and the continued involvement of so many local people in shaping its future.”

Award-winning scheme
In July 2015 the Steart project picked up the top award in the ICE South West Civil Engineering Awards – the Members Award, which gives ICE members the chance to choose their favourite project of the year.

The scheme has also been shortlisted in the BCI Awards 2015 (Major Civil Engineering Project of the Year category) which will be presented on 15 October at Grosvenor House Hotel in London in front of an audience of more than 1,200 industry key players.

In April 2015 the scheme won an Environment Agency Project Excellence Award; in 2013 it received a ‘Gold’ Green Apple Award and won the Environment Agency’s Health, Safety and Environmental Exemplar Award.

A year earlier, in 2012, following a visit by an assessor from the Considerate Constructors Scheme, the Steart project was deemed an “exceptionally good site” having achieved a score of 37 out of a maximum of 40 points.

Team Van Oord
Team Van Oord is a joint venture partnership between Van Oord, Kier Group, Mackley Construction and Royal HaskoningDHV.

8 October 2015