Marshlands, Nature Reserves and Seaside Towns – The Essex Coastline

Starting at Purfleet and ending at Manningtree, the coastline that borders the English county of Essex encompasses marshes, tidal inlets, seaside towns and even some historical fortifications. It is not a coastline characterised by cliffs, but more by beaches and large flat marshlands adjacent to the sea, with a view stretching for many miles in all directions [1]. Starting at the Thames Estuary in the east, it soon meets the North Sea, which it borders up to Harwich in the north.

The Thames Estuary – that is, from Purfleet to Shoeburyness – is one characterised by marshland, seaside towns and industrial activity. Its proximity to a large shipping port, as well as the port of Dover in Kent and the city of London, means that it is no surprise that this stretch of the coastline is rather industrialised. Be it warehouses, oil storage or small-scale manufacturing, the Thames Estuary at Purfleet, Thurrock and Tilbury is lined with industrial activity. Another feature is at Corrington, which is home to a rather new feature – London Gateway – a large state-of-the-art deep-sea port, from which ships from all over the world dock [2].

However, the Thames Estuary is not just made up of industrial areas and port towns – there is also room for scenic seaside towns, marshland areas and several nature reserves. Thameside Nature Discovery Park is located along the coastline at Stanford-le-Hope; not only is birdwatching a common pastime here, but this is also an ideal area for walking and cycling activities [3]. Leigh National Nature Reserve is located on Two Tree Island near Church Hill; this is a saltmarsh located at the mouth of a tidal inlet that holds a large range of saltmarsh plant species and many rare insects and butterflies. Kestrels are also a common sight [4].

To the east of Church Hill is the large seaside resort town of Southend-on-Sea. The largest town in this article, Southend is home to a vibrant sea front, which includes a large amusement park, a 3km (2 mile) long sand and shingle beach that stretches from Southend to Thorpe Bay, and Southend Pier. This pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world – at 2km (1.2 miles) long, it includes various eating outlets and a Lifeboat Station at the end of the pier, as well as many scenic views in every direction across the mouth of the Thames Estuary. A miniature railway also runs along the entirety of the pier [5].

There are sections along the Essex coast where fortifications exist. Perhaps the most interesting of these is located at Shoeburyness, 5km (3 miles) eastwards of Southend – the remnants of a 19th Century military complex. This site began operation at the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, and was also used during World War II. The site also includes a firing battery that was built in 1899. Today, all that remains are derelict fortifications located within a park adjacent to the coastline, but they still add history and intrigue to the area [6].

Shoeburyness marks the point at which the Essex coastline changes, from an east-west trajectory, to being in a general north-south direction; this is also the point at which the Thames Estuary ends and the coast starts to border the North Sea. The stretch of coastline between here and Manningtree is much more remote than the Essex coast to the west of here – apart from the occasional seaside town, settlements are few and far between, and the coastline mainly consists of marshland and coastal inlets. This extensive area of marshlands results in some ideal habitats for many animal and plant species; it is therefore no wonder that large stretches of this coastline have been declared nature reserves.

For example, Bradwell Shell Bank and Dengie Nature Reserves are great, tranquil and remote locations where a wide variety of species can be seen. Both nature reserves are located about 3km (2 miles) east of the village of Bradwell-on-Sea, with Bradwell Shell Bank consisting of a saltmarsh landscape that provides a fantastic habitat for a number of species. During the summer, flowers such as the Yellow-horned Poppy blossom in large numbers, whereas Yellow Wagtail and Skylark bird species are frequently sighted. However, it is during the autumn and winter that waders are very common – up to 20,000 wading birds roost at this nature reserve, including Gley Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit species. Dengie Nature Reserve is the name given to the tidal mudflats that reach up to 2.5km (1.5 miles) east of the shoreline during low tide; it is on these mudflats that many of the waders are found [7]. Other nature reserves along the Essex coastline include Blackwater Estuary and Hamford Water.

Although seaside towns and villages are rare along the stretch of the Essex coast between Shoeburyness and Manningtree, there is one that is quite a large seaside destination – Clacton-on-Sea. This bustling seaside resort boasts many attractions, including a pier, amusement arcades, and fun fair rides. There is also a sandy beach along the seafront [8]. Other seaside resort towns include West Mersea and Walton-on-the-Naze. The town of Harwich, however, functions more as a port town, and has a frequently-used ferry route to The Netherlands.

There are several long inlets along the Essex coast; when the sea level rose at the end of the last Ice Age, low-lying valleys were flooded, creating these shallow but wide ‘rias’, or flooded valleys. These include the River Crouch, the River Blackwater and the River Stour. As expected with shallow rias, when the tide is in, they are full of water; however, once the tide flows out, extensive mudflats are revealed. The River Stour inlet marks the border between the counties of Essex and Suffolk, and the town of Manningtree is located at the end of the inlet. This town marks the end of the Essex coastline – it is just to the north of here that the coast enters Suffolk.













Image Southend-on-Sea:  Ildiko Lehner on Pixabay









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