An "innovative" tunnel is being drilled to help construct a new £20million water pipeline while protecting wildlife habitats.

The tunnel is being dug out beneath the River Blackwater and Langford Cut.

It is part of Essex and Suffolk Water’s new 19.5km pipeline, which will run between Layer-de-la-Haye and Langford to help make water supplies to customers in those areas more resilient.

The project team is using a process called ‘directional drilling’ to take a 200m stretch of pipe – created by fusing shorter sections of pipe together – beneath the rivers by creating a tunnel six metres below the ground.

It initially involves drilling a pilot tunnel as a guide, which is then widened before the pipe is pulled through the hole from the opposite side of the river.

The drilling process, which began at the start of September, is expected to take four weeks to complete.

The new pipeline will help ensure water can be more easily moved between the company’s raw water reservoirs to be treated and distributed across the areas, helping to protect supplies and the environment.

Senior project manager Daniel Wilson said: “This is a really exciting milestone for this project, which improves our strategic network to support more resilient supplies for customers across this part of Essex and has been years in the planning.

“As well as ensuring the pipeline design delivers for our customers, we have also worked hard to ensure it protects our environment as well, and this process of passing the pipework beneath the River Blackwater and Langford Cut is an important aspect of that.”