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Hesketh Out Marsh goes wild again

Last modified: 11 May 2016

RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh reserve, Lancashire

Image: Andy Hay

After more than 35 years stuck behind a private sea wall, more than 154 hectares of land (380 acres) is being returned to the Ribble Estuary, providing a valuable home for wildlife in Lancashire, as well as bolstering flood defences in the face of rising sea levels.

Thanks largely to Landfill Communities Fund monies from FCC Environment through WREN, the RSPB has purchased Hesketh Out Marsh East (HOME), a former part of the estuary that was converted into intensively managed farmland in the early 1980s. The RSPB acquired parts of the site in 2010 and in early 2014, and recently secured the last 54ha (133 acres) block of land, necessary to complete the ambitious project.

The RSPB is working in partnership with the Environment Agency and Natural England to return Hesketh Out Marsh East to saltmarsh, by reconnecting it to the Ribble Estuary. 

This process, known as managed realignment, involves strengthening the inner flood defences and then breaching the outer private sea wall to allow the water to flow in naturally. This process will eventually return the land to saltmarsh, which will act as a buffer, absorbing the energy of the tides before they reach the improved flood bank.  The saltmarsh will also benefit a range of breeding wading birds such as redshanks, together with wintering wildfowl including pink-footed geese and wigeon.

The breaching of the outer private sea wall is scheduled for summer 2017. In the meantime, the RSPB and the Environment Agency are landscaping a series of lagoons and creeks at the site to create great habitat for wildlife.

Tony Baker, the RSPB’s Ribble Sites Manager, said: “By giving us the funds to purchase the final piece of Hesketh Out Marsh East, in addition to the previous monies to purchase other parts of the site, FCC Environment through WREN has played a major role in helping us to realise our dream of returning Hesketh Out Marsh to the wild.

“Following on from our Hesketh Out Marsh West realignment project which was completed in 2009, our HOME project will restore 324ha (800 acres) of saltmarsh, providing huge benefits for both people and wildlife.”  

Simon Settle, WREN’s Head of Grant Programmes, said: “FCC Environment and WREN are delighted to have provided the funding to help the RSPB purchase Hesketh Out Marsh East which will ensure the important work of returning this land back to saltmarsh for the benefit of wildlife and people can be realised”

Richard Shirres, the project's technical specialist for the Environment Agency, said: “It's excellent that this collaborative work has been recognised, which will help secure the scheme's early completion.  The project also reduces future flood risk for over 140 properties and farmland and brings a range of environmental benefits, including essential climate change adaptation.”

Mike Burke, North West England Area Manager, for Natural England, said: “It’s fabulous news that this partnership project has been able to secure the funding to restore this land for wildlife as a functional part of the Ribble Estuary. Natural England is proud to be part of this. We will continue to work with RSPB, Environment Agency and others in the estuary to support a range of stakeholders’ interests.”

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