National Trust removes part of sea wall to protect wildlife reserve and site of famous Essex battle

Credit: National Trust/ Justin Minns/PA
Wildfowl at Northey Island in Essex Credit: National Trust

Conservationists have taken down a section of sea wall to help protect the site of a famous battle between Anglo-Saxon and vikings.

The area, which is a saltmarsh, was at risk from rising sea levels and there were fears the site could be lost within 100 years if nothing was done.Opening up more space for seawater to come through at Northey Island in Essex helps slow the coastal squeeze phenomenon, where a habitat caught between man-made sea defences and rising seas is squeezed out.

The site, which is managed by the National Trust, was the site of the Battle of Maldon in 991 between a band of viking invaders and an army of Anglo-Saxons.

The Saxons - led by Earl Brynoth, were defeated and Lord Brynoth was killed. He was later buried at Ely Cathedral.

The battle was made famous in an epic poem, of which Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien was a fan.

The plaque commemorating the Battle of Maldon Credit: Glyn Baker

With the site now a wildlife reserve, Daniel Leggett, senior coastal project manager for the Trust, said: "Saltmarsh has all sorts of value. It sequesters carbon, it's important for fish nursery areas, birds of course use it and the vegetation and the landscape itself."

He said that around 250 metres of sea wall was removed earlier this year, allowing high tides through to deposit seeds and sediment and create new saltmarsh.

Explaining why some sea wall was removed in response to rising sea levels, Mr Leggett said: "If you're within an estuarine location, which this is, if you keep all the sea walls where they are and keep building them higher, all you're doing is funnelling the tidal energy into an ever-decreasing area.

Work was undertaken to lower a sea embankment at Northey Island in Essex Credit: Ruth McKegney/National Trust/PA

"It's getting faster and faster, getting deeper, and if it's deeper it will also have bigger waves. You get more wave energy, more tidal energy and therefore loss of the habitat.

"By taking the sea wall down, what you're doing is allowing what nature would do, which as sea levels rise it would spread sideways into the floodplain and that slows things down and reduces energy.

"You're now giving more space for nature to operate within."

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An island designed to remain above tide levels for the next 100 years would also be built for birds to nest and breed.

Overhead power lines were removed during the project, with cables routed underground instead in a boost for birds.

Record numbers of dunlins and dark-bellied brent geese were recorded afterwards.

The new area of saltmarsh will also offer a new habitat for plants including the nationally scarce shrubby sea-blite, golden samphire and bladder wrack.

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