Horsey Island Recharge

Year Implemented


Project Type

Beneficial use of dredged sediment


United Kingdom


Hamford Water (Essex)





Habitat(s) Created

3 Hectares

Why Undertaken
  • Habitat Enhancement

  • Improve Flood Protection

Project Description Summary

At Horsey Island, a range of different projects were done between 1998 and 2021, to protect the island’s badly deteriorating seawalls and/or to restore eroding habitats. These were implemented by the Environment Agency and the RSPB, in partnership with Harwich Haven Authority (HHA) and the landowner, using sediment from capital and maintenance dredging work at the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe.

A review by ABPmer (in 2016) summarised the quite complex set of initiatives (and associated studies, evidence collation exercises and assessments) carried out from 1998 to 2006. These were divided into six separate elements (retrospectively referred to here as Phases 1 to 6):

1) Phase 1 1988: Installation of Thames Lighter Barges to act as wave energy breaks.
2) Phase 2 Early 1990s: Importation of shingle and sand (148,000 m³) over several phases (starting with 18,000 m³ in 1990) to create a new barrier along the alignment of the lighter barges.
3) Phase 3 1992 Small-scale trial of silt recharge onto saltmarsh (<1,000 m³) undertaken at the south-east corner of the island.
4) Phase 4 1998: First major importation of silt (20,000 m³) over 2.7 ha of mudflat behind the sand and shingle barrier to raise intertidal levels, stabilise the barrier and create marsh habitat.
5) Phase 5 2001 and 2003: Second and third importation of silt in 2001 (15,750 m³) and 2003 (25,000 m³) to ‘top up’ intertidal area behind the sand and shingle barrier.
6) Phase 6 2005/06: Importation of silt (47,000 m³) over two phases in November 2005 (21,000 m³) and January 2006 (26,000 m³) on to a separate area of deteriorating saltmarsh to the west of the sand/shingle barrier to raise and restore this degraded habitat and protect the sea wall.

In the years that followed this work, the barrier became the most important place for nesting little terns in Essex. It held 100% of all Essex nests in 2019 (33 pairs; 11 young fledged).  This is in addition to protecting this wave-exposed corner of the island. 

Then in 2020, the RSPB received MMO marine licence consent for a new Horsey Island recharge proposal. This project was implemented in October 2021 (SEE VIDEO LINK).  This campaign is viewed here as Phase 7 and this involved the following: 

7) Phase 7 2021:  For this project around 50,000 m³ of sand and gravel were used to further raise and recharge the barrier and make it more sustainable.  This had multiple benefits including providing habitat for little terns (Sternula albifrons) and protecting the local saltmarsh from erosion.  This was supported by funding under the European Union’s L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement (LIFE) Programme, LIFE on the Edge project.

These projects show how coarse and fine-grained dredged sediments can be used to build up and restore intertidal habitats and enhance coastal protection. They also show that such benefits can occur quickly (in the first spring/summer after Phase 7 there was an increase of Little Tern nests and fledged juveniles) and can, with care and attention, persist over decades (including a periods which have seen major storm events).

In 2024, a well-illustrated summary of this project, and the Mersea Harbour initiative as separately described in the OMReg database, was included provided in the 3rd volume of the Engineering with Nature (EWN) atlas.  This EWN report was published by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Centre (Tritinger, et al 2024) and is available at (see also citation below).  





Documents/References uploaded
  • ABPmer, (2016). Horsey Island Coastal Restoration - 10 Years On, Review of UK’s first and largest mixed-sediment beneficial use projects. An internal white paper produced by ABPmer Ref 1400-16-13, March 2016. (
  • CEFAS website Determination of the Ecological Consequences of Dredged-material Emplacement DECODE (2002)
  • Colenutt, (2001) Saltmarsh Management Techniques A Review, New Forest District Council Coast Protection Group October 2001
  • Defra and the Environment Agency, (2004). Saltmarsh Management Manual.
  • Nottage A.S. and Robertson P.A. (2005) The Saltmarsh Creation Handbook: A Project Manager's Guide to the Creation of Saltmarsh and Intertidal Mudflat
  • MMO (2020) Ref MLA/2020/00302 For RSPB Horsey Island recharge proposal (Dated 17 February 2021)
  • RSPB (2020) Voluntary Environmental report for the Horsey Island recharge proposal
  • EWN Vol 3 Report (2024) - Tritinger, A., Hubbard, Z., Chambers, C. E. Suedel, B. C. Bourne, E. M. Moynihan, E. B. Mohan, R. K. and King. J. K. (2024). Engineering With Nature: An Atlas, Volume 3. ERDC SR-24-2. Vicksburg, MS: U.S. Army Engineer

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