It was a pleasure to welcome Defra Biodiversity Minister Rebecca Pow to Wallasea Island yesterday and showcase the largest coastal habitat restoration project in Europe. 

The timing was good given that the Minister will soon be leading the Environment Bill through the House of Commons and this will be the legislation that the Government hopes will restore England’s natural environment in a generation.

As I wrote last week, Wallasea Island is a great place to understand what is needed to make good things happen.  And, I was pleased that, despite the mist, the bird spectacle was impressive showing some off the remarkable 33,000 birds that were counted this winter (including 2,284 grey plover 2,284, 9,001 knot, 1,102 bar-tailed godwit, 1,488 shelduck and 4,058 dunlin) - a massive increase from the 2,000 birds recorded when this was a arable landscape.


We cannot afford to be passive in the face of sea level rise and I was very keen to impress upon the Minister the need for a sustained national programme of coastal habitat creation as a contribution to the 500,000 hectares of new habitat that they have promised through the 25 year environment plan.  This is essential to give space for wildlife when coastal habitats are squeezed by development and sea level rise. 

But there are wider benefits as coastal habitats (such as saltmarsh and mudflats) capture and store more carbon dioxide per unit area than most other natural systems.  So, the way we protect, manage and restore our coasts will be crucial in the fight against climate change – a topic that was barely mentioned yesterday in the commentary about the new report by the Committee on Climate Change on land use.

Conversations with the Minister (shown above next to a section of the Crossrail drill, me and reps from two of the main Wallasea partners: Environment Agency and Natural England) shifted to China, not just because Kunming will later this year host the summit to agree the new global deal for nature, but also because Wallasea has been twinned with Chongming Dongtan (image below), which is a site on the Yellow Sea which the RSPB has been helping Chinese authorities to restore. 

Our work in the Yellow Sea started with our interest in protecting the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, of which barely 200 pairs remain.  Like 50 million other migratory waterbirds, each spring and autumn, they refuel on the wetlands of the Yellow Sea coast, and especially the intertidal flats and associated wetlands of Jiangsu.

Chinese coastal conservation received a major boost in July 2019 when the Yellow Sea shorebird habitats secured World Heritage listing.  Not only was this appropriate recognition of the global importance of the site, there was immediate and tangible benefit when the Jiangsu provincial government dropped its ambitious plan to reclaim 66,667 hectares of mudflats in Yancheng.  This was not only good news for shorebirds but also for the local communities that depend on the coast for their livelihoods, not to mention the climate benefits of keeping the carbon locked up in the mudflats.

My colleague, Nicola Crockford, has been intimately involved in these conservation efforts in recent years.  So, it was fantastic news that, on 9 January, she was awarded the Jiangsu Friendship Award for her contribution to wetland conservation in Yancheng.  Any of you that have worked with Nicola know that she is both a force of and for nature and this award is a much-deserved accolade.  The pictures show her collecting the award and also sitting with other recipients where she is, for obvious reasons, easy to spot.

Under Nicola’s leadership, the RSPB will continue to build strong links with Yancheng.  We hope that this leads to further collaboration between China and the UK as we have shared interest both in securing an ambitious global deal for nature and in having big plans for nature’s recovery on our shores.

Under Minister Pow’s leadership, we need the Environment Bill to help drive nature’s recovery at our coasts and across the whole of England.