Protecting our Wetland Heritage

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/G016895/1
Discipline: Archaeology
Funding opportunity: Knowledge Transfer Fellowship
Areas of Impact: Culture and Heritage; Environment; Policy Influence; Tourism
Lead RO: University of Exeter
Region: South West

Looking after coastal landscapes is about balancing a variety of pressures. They can offer rich habitats for wildlife, fertile ground for farming and flat land for building. They can also contain a lot of important history and are often subject to environmental pressures such as rising sea levels. The AHRC funded project “Our Wetland Heritage” looked at these issues and how techniques developed by the project lead, Professor Stephen Rippon, could be used to help manage these important landscapes.

The South Essex Marshes, located on the north bank of the Thames Estuary, east of London, is one such coastal landscape. As part of a recent plan, various parts of the marshes have been converted into a new nature reserve, the South Essex Marshes Nature Reserve, which currently receives 260,000 visitors a year.

As part of “Our Wetland Heritage”, Professor Rippon worked with Essex County Council (ECC) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) on the development of this new reserve. By studying a variety of sources including old maps, place names and historical documents such as the Domesday Survey of 1086, Professor Rippon was able to identify historically important parts of the South Essex landscape. This enabled him to help ECC and RSPB adapt the plans for the nature reserve based on this information.

As a result, some very rare examples of medieval landscapes, where land had been reclaimed from the sea, which were originally going to be flooded and destroyed were instead protected and made a part of the new reserve. Professor Rippon was then able to advise the RSPB on the best ways to look after these important landscapes to ensure their ongoing preservation, and helped develop the information boards displayed for visitors.

This has meant that not only have historically important landscapes been preserved for future generations but also that the 260,000 visitors each year, along with the local communities, are provided with a broader understanding of the history of the area.

The information and understanding of the South Essex landscape developed as part of this project can also be used to inform any future work in the area. The success of Professor Rippon’s work as part of this project was such that, even before it had ended, other organisations approached him to carry out similar work in other geographical areas.

For more information on the project visit: Our Wetland Heritage

Gateway to Research Project Links: Our Wetland Heritage: An Integrated Approach Towards Managing Coastal Landscapes, May 09 - Apr 11


Associated image: Copyright: Stephen Rippon and Adam Wainwright, image from the report: Our Wetland Heritage: An Integrated Approach Towards Managing Coastal Landscapes (PDF).