A MAJOR milestone has been reached on a ground-breaking environmental project on an island.

Work to create and retain a new saltmarsh habitat in Northey Island in the Blackwater Estuary near Maldon is providing a lifeline for wildlife.

The island, which is cared for by the National Trust, is the largest single block of saltmarsh habitat in the Blackwater Estuary.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Views: The Blackwater Estuary from Northey IslandViews: The Blackwater Estuary from Northey Island (Image: National Trust Justin Minns)

Since 2020, the trust has been undertaking a project to help the area better withstand climate impacts.

Earlier in the year a 40-metre section of embankment was lowered and a 200-metre section was removed to allow the sea to flood an area on the east of the island.

Over time, high tides will deposit seeds and sediment, creating approximately 10 hectares of new saltmarsh and, along with other coastal adaptation works carried out on the island, protect a further 60 hectares of saltmarsh around the island for future generations.

Without the work taking place it was predicted nearly all of the saltmarsh could be lost.

Daniel Leggett, coastal project manager for the National Trust, said: “The action we’ve taken here on such a large scale means that future generations, wildlife and our climate will benefit from this unusual and unsung habitat sitting between the land and the sea.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Creating: New wildlife pond created as part of the preparations for the managed realignment work on Northey IslandCreating: New wildlife pond created as part of the preparations for the managed realignment work on Northey Island (Image: National Trust Ruth McKegney)

“Our work over the last 30 years is a demonstration of coastal adaptation that is now benefitting other coastal sites around the UK.

“We’re facing a climate and nature crisis, and we must all act now to reduce loss of habitats, bring back wildlife, and adapt to future conditions in a way that will last the test of time. We’re proud that what we’ve learnt is being shared and implemented elsewhere.”

A new nesting island for birds is set to be created and a new viewing platform and hide has been installed for visitors to the site.

Russell Clement, general manager for the National Trust Essex and Suffolk Coast said: “Northey Island is one of the few places in the UK where dark-bellied brent geese can be found, so it’s vital that their habitats have remained undisturbed by the work.

“It’s been a huge engineering project and involved years of planning. Working around the tide meant that working hours were limited and we had the delicate task of large machinery manoeuvring along the existing sea wall to move over 1,000 cubic metres of soil.”

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Rare: Northey Island is one of the few places where Dark Bellied geese can be foundRare: Northey Island is one of the few places where Dark Bellied geese can be found (Image: National Trust Justin Minns)

Part of the project included removing telegraph poles and overhead power lines and placing the cables underground, which has opened up the area for birds to land.

Since then, record numbers of birds have been recorded, including dunlins and dark-bellied brent geese - both protected species at risk of decline.

A series of new wildlife ponds were also created and a colony of water voles was relocated from a pond that was frequently flooded by tidal water to a new purpose-built freshwater pond.