Essex Wildlife Trust purchased Abbotts Hall Farm in 1999 and was keen to work with the Environment Agency to try and re-grow new coastal marshes on the Essex Coast. The sea wall at Abbotts Hall was in need of repair and Essex Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency wanted to consider different ways of coastal defence which took into account the problems of the sea level rising.
There followed 2 years of studies and monitoring, for example looking at the water levels and flows in the Salcott Channel (part of the Blackwater Estuary) to help determine the effects that the breaches would have on the Estuary. These hydrodynamic studies and other research supported the planning application made to Colchester Borough Council, who took into account many views and gave planning consent.
Many other comments were also obtained before the realignment of the sea defence was allowed to proceed. Counter walls were constructed at each end of Abbotts Hall to ensure that neighbours land was not flooded, the 5 breaches were designed and constructed in October 2002. The first big tide flooded about 120 acres of Abbotts Hall Farm in November 2002.
The coastal marshes of Essex are disappearing very rapidly (up to 60% of these marshes have been eroded by the sea in the last 20 years). The project at Abbotts Hall Farm shows that these marshes can be created on low-lying land behind sea walls. The marshes are internationally important for wildlife, particularly migrating birds, which come in their thousands to the Essex Coast.
The project has also shown how important these new marshes are as fish nurseries – Abbotts Hall now has large numbers of young bass, herring and 14 other types of fish feeding in the creeks within the marshes.
Abbotts Hall has proved to be an internationally important demonstration site to show what can be achieved and information from this project is being used to help plan new projects across the country. It is not to say that this type of coastal realignment is the right option along the whole of the coastline. It is the right option in some places where an expensive sea defence can be replaced by superb marshland.