Wallasea Island lies in the Thames estuary on the River Crouch in Essex and is the site of one of the most exciting habitat creation projects in western Europe. The RSPB is creating a landmark new reserve here using waste spoil from London’s Crossrail Project which is deposited on the island in order to raise the ground level by several metres across 1,500 acres. Controlled breaches of the existing sea wall will then create new saltmarsh, lagoons and islands. The RSPB has invited the SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) to document this massive feat of engineering by creating an artistic record of the change in habitat from sterile agricultural land to a landscaped wildlife haven.
An earlier residency took place in the third week of April, with seven artists recording the machinery and bird life of the region. Between the 21st and the 24th of September, and together with five other artists from the SWLA (Carry Akroyd, Brin Edwards, Dafila Scott, Robert Greenhalf and Johnnie Foker), I was lucky enough to take part in this exciting project.
Meeting up on-site, we were given a tour of the project by one of the wardens. An almost lunar landscape, the vast sky and flat horizons were unlike anything I was used to. The infill with soil from the Crossrail project was complete (although they still hope for more spoils from alternative sources) and some of the sea walls had been breached, meaning parts of the area were flooded with the high tide. Bird life was sparse and the distant, save a few thousand canada geese.
The weather was…English and the first day was spent under an umbrella trying to sketch and not get too wet. The weather improved over the next few days and I managed to fill half a sketchbook. As everything was new, I found myself rushing around trying to record and get to grips with everything (=not getting anything done). I felt like I needed to ‘connect’ more deeply with the landscape, and on the second day I decided to limit myself to recording the rise and fall of the tide on one particular creek.
Wallasea is a really fascinating place and a really exciting project. I had some really interesting chats with walkers and birdwatchers passing by, and I really hope the RSPB manages to fund a return trip (or trips) – an artistic response to the changes through time could really make this project come alive in an exciting and more valuable way. I can’t wait to go back and see how it develops (hint hint)…