The £21m scheme will help protect homes and businesses from flooding due to climate change and rising sea levels, and establish a new nature reserve.
A new channel has been 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. The new reserve is expected to flood fully for the first time during the course of this week (w/comm 8 Sept).
Talking to BBC News, Peter Morris from the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust which will manage the new reserve, said: “Climate change and extreme weather events are becoming more of an issue.
“What we’re proving here is that we can deal with these issues on the coast by working with nature rather than against it, rather than building concrete walls which eventually get higher and higher and are not viable.”
The Steart Coastal Management Project is located next to the Severn Estuary on the Steart Peninsular. It is surrounded by internationally and nationally designated nature conservation areas forming part of the Severn Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA), Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Once fully flooded, the project will create a major new wetland including: 194 ha of intertidal salt marsh; 40 ha of intertidal mudflat; 67 ha of transitional brackish habitat; 106 ha of coastal grazing marsh; 17 hectares of brackish and saline lagoons; eight hectares of freshwater lagoon; 12 hectares of reedbed; 61 hectares of dry grassland; 11 hectares of scrub & hedge; and numerous ponds and ditches.
Matt Phillips, Team Van Oord project manager for the scheme, said: “In order to create the new habitat we had to relocate water voles, badgers, great crested newts and reptiles and undertake extensive unexploded ordnance and archaeological investigations.
“The construction works comprised more than 600 000m3 of earthworks, 80 structures, 14 km of new fencing, 8km of new PROWs and creating new visitor facilities.
“We are working closely with the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust who will take over management of the habitat on completion.”
This is the second major coastal realignment scheme that Team Van Oord has completed in the past 12 months.
In November 2013, new sea defences and a nature reserve at Medmerry in West Sussex were put to the test when one of the highest tides of last year provided ideal conditions to demonstrate how the scheme is protecting local communities from flooding.
The new defences at Medmerry have significantly reduced the flood risk to nearly 350 homes and local infrastructure. The groundbreaking project has also created more than 180 hectares of important new wildlife habitat to help compensate for the loss of similar conservation areas in and around the Solent.
9 September 2014