VITAL conservation work to tackle impact of climate change in the Blackwater Estuary has scooped a prestigious award.

Northey Island’s habitat creation scheme won a project of the year award in the East of England’s Constructing Excellence Awards.

Northey is the single largest block of saltmarsh in the Blackwater Estuary and an internationally important place for nature conservation.

But climate change means higher tides are eroding the edges of the saltmarsh and sea water is flowing over the top, drowning vegetation and threatening wildlife.

The project has involved the creation and restoration of saltmarsh and freshwater habitats for wildlife.

There is also a new visitor access route, wildlife hide and viewing area overlooking the estuary.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The new wildlife hide on Northey IslandThe new wildlife hide on Northey Island (Image: David Mason)

A colony of 16 water voles – a protected species and one of the UK's fastest declining mammals – was relocated to a new, purpose-built freshwater habitat on the island.

Saltmarsh is the largest sedimentary carbon store of coastal and marine habitats, but makes up less than 0.5 per cent of the UK’s landmass and is in decline due to sea level rise and climate change.

The Northey project saw Miles Water Engineering and Landbreach working with the National Trust to prevent the island's saltmarshes being washed away.

National Trust coastal projects manager Daniel Leggett said: “Without management almost the entire 90 hectares of saltmarsh at Northey will be lost in the next 70-100 years.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Northey Island is one of the few places in the UK to find dark-bellied brent geeseNorthey Island is one of the few places in the UK to find dark-bellied brent geese (Image: National Trust Images: Justin Minns)

“The saltmarsh on the island, comprises 80 per cent of the current area of the property and 10 per cent of the total saltmarsh in the Blackwater Estuary.

"It is the largest continuous stand of saltmarsh found in the estuary. It is shrinking year-on-year due to erosion from waves and stronger tidal flows, which are the result of rising sea level and climate change impacts.”

The habitat creation project was praised for its focus on long-term sustainability.

Saltmarsh on the island has been restored by re-using sediment from dredging activities to protect sections from wave erosion.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: National Trust - Justin MinnsNational Trust - Justin Minns (Image: National Trust - Justin Minns)

Two new areas of healthy saltmarsh, covering about two hectares, are now said to be thriving with an "amazing variety of wildlife".

Overhead power cables were also removed last year making it easier for birds to land, which has seen record numbers of protected dark-bellied brent geese and dunlins flocking to the island.

Mr Leggett added: “Our work at Northey is a good example of how nature-based solutions can offer a sustainable response to the climate and nature crisis.”