Anthropocene in Transit

When I visit my daughter in Nottinghill, I catch the Hammersmith and City lIne from King’s Cross St Pancrass to Royal Oak. Royal Oak is the portal into the new CrossRail tunnel being bored under London, between Paddington and Farringdon stations. Here I am mesmerised by the sight of London Clay being transferred by front end loader to excavator to conveyor belt to start its journey to Wallasea island in Essex. Go here Cross Rail, Royal Oak Station to see my rather crude videos of this process.

From here, the mud  goes to Barking, where it is transfered onto ships for transport to Wallasea Island.

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

When reaching Wallasea Island, it is offloaded via a specially constructed jetty, to a conveyer to a materials handling area.

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

It is then moved by excavator onto pick up trucks and dumped to transform 620 hectares of arable farmland into the coastal marshland it once was. The newly restored landscape will be a wetland of mudflats and salt marshes, shallow lagoons and pastures, with higher level bund walls to allow for public access.

Credit: Simon Phillip

Credit: Simon Phillip

Bounded to the north by the River Crouch and to the south by the River Roach and Paglesham Pool, Wallasea was mostly wetland mud flats until the arrival of Dutch settlers in the 15th Century. Flat and low lying, the construction of sea walls allowed it to be turned into farmland and it saw cultivation until the 19th Century, when periodic flooding and crashing wheat prices saw the island’s population decline. Brief agricultural resurgences during both World Wars followed, but the floods of 1953 marked something of a point of no return. Since 1953 Wallasea has led a rather unremarkable existence. In 2006, however, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) decided to embark on an ambitious scheme – the Wallasea Wetlands project. This involved taking over 115 hectares of Wallasea farmland and demolishing the surrounding sea wall. With their section of the island now flooding again at high tide, the original salt marsh and mud flats began to return, and with them the birds and other wildlife that had once been a regular feature of the Essex coast. The RSPB’s project was a success, and with the need for mudflats and marshes growing, the decision was taken to embark on one of the largest and most ambitious conservation projects yet seen in the UK – the whole of Wallesea would be taken over and turned into the largest wetlands conservation site in Europe.  

With Crossrail looking to dispose of 4.5m tonnes of mud, and the RSPB looking to find 10m tonnes of it, a partnership was formed and in August 2012, the first shipment of London Clay was delivered to Essex. The tunneling between Paddington and Farringdon stations producing the mud for Wallasea will be complete by March 2014.

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