GMI Responsible for Lion’s Share of Articles in Tier 1 Maritime History Journal

In the May 2013 issue of Mariners’ Mirror, a tier 1 journal, GMI graduates and staff are responsible for a large proportion of the items published.
Dr Peter Skidmore who completed his PhD with the GMI in 2009 had the following article published ‘Vessels and Networks: Shipowning in North-West England’s Coasting Trade in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’. Dr Skidmore’s PhD focused on the maritime economy on the north west of England in the later eighteenth century.

Mr Ken Cozens, MA Maritime History graduated from the GMI in 2006 has published another article with his colleague Gary Sturgess, ‘Managing a Global Enterprise in the Eighteenth Century: Anthony Calvert of The Crescent, London, 1777-1808’. This builds on previous work and publications that they have completed together on mercantile networks.

Finally there is an excellent review of Dr Cathy Pearce’s book ‘Cornish Wrecking, 1700-1860: Reality and Popular Myth’. Dr Pearce completed her PhD with the GMI in 2007 and is now attached to the Institute as an Honorary Research Associate. She will be contributing to the delivery of a short course on ‘Maritime Crime: Piracy, Smuggling, Wrecking and Water Whodunnits’ on 12th June 2013.

GMI is very proud to have a high proportion of graduates in addition to the current staff that publish frequently in top journals. Look out for the next issue of Mariners’ Mirror which will feature an article by Dr Chris Ware, Lecturer in Naval History.

Suzanne Louail

Mariners Mirror May 13

China’s sparkling maritime business achievements

The China maritime business story over the past ten years has been dazzling. By the end of 2012 Chinese shipowners’ share of the world’s entire merchant ship fleet had risen to 10 percent. This Chinese fleet is now more than three times its size one decade earlier. Last year shipbuilders in China produced 43 percent of the world’s newbuilding ship deliveries (based on deadweight tonnage), up from a relatively small six percent share at the start of the 2000s. Equally impressively, importers in China last year received an enormous volume of cargo by sea, comprising almost one-fifth of all world seaborne trade, compared with a six percent proportion a decade earlier.

An opportunity is approaching to examine this amazing narrative and its causes in more detail. At Greenwich Maritime Institute on 10th June, a one-day short course entitled ‘A Leading Global Player: Maritime Business Activities in China’ will look closely at the trends and assess the current position. Any clues to how events will unfold in the period ahead also will be discussed.

What has made these achievements so remarkable is not only the sheer magnitude, but also the speed at which expansion occurred. During a period of a little over ten years, China has transformed the global maritime business scene, overtaking other major players to become the most prominent and influential participant in several key activities. A dizzying velocity of sustained growth year after year became a defining feature, a pattern which was not widely foreseen. Few people would believe a forecaster predicting advances of that intensity or longevity.

Chinese shipowners, shipbuilders, ship recyclers, and importers and exporters of commodities and products carried by sea have become the principal, immediate focus of attention in international shipping markets. The first question asked by market operators, brokers and analysts in weighing up the current position and attempting to predict a pattern of events in the future is usually “what are the Chinese doing”?

From a global freight market viewpoint, the most prominent aspect has been the vast expansion of seaborne bulk commodity imports into China. In their offices during the late 1970s and early ’80s, some shipbrokers and analysts sat around talking about the possibility of China one day (within the foreseeable future) becoming a key factor affecting global bulk trade movements. Labelling this agreeable vista as a ‘great white hope’ did not seem too exaggerated. But the reality would take a long time to appear. Although in the 1990s there were distinct signs of a strong upwards trend from a low base, it was not until well after the millennium celebrations that China rapidly started becoming the most influential element.

In the early 2000s China’s dry bulk commodity imports averaged 8 percent of the global total. The 2002 figure was 217 million tonnes. Ten years later, in 2012, the total reached 1300 million tonnes, according to data compiled by Clarksons Research, raising the Chinese share of global dry bulk trade four-fold to 32 percent. This astonishing performance was driven by enormous expansion of iron ore imports for the steel industry. Other commodities also contributed strongly. Coal, for power station usage (steam coal) and for steel mill consumption (coking coal), was a key growth component, especially towards the end of the period. Rising soyabeans purchases and import volumes of several ‘minor’ bulk commodities were additional features.

The Chinese shipbuilding scene merits particular attention as well. When the 2000s began newbuilding vessel deliveries of all types from China’s shipyards totalled 3-4 million deadweight tonnes annually, a modest volume. In 2012 the total was massively larger at 65m dwt, comprising over two-fifths of the global total. Two years earlier, in 2010, China had become the world’s largest shipbuilder based on deadweight tonnage, overtaking South Korea. Then, last year, China also became number one on the basis of both deadweight tonnage and the dollar value of output.

Explanations for these striking developments (and for other prominent trends including oil imports, container trade and ship recycling) and perceptible pointers to the future will be examined intensely in the forthcoming GMI course. What is well known is that China’s economy has been a star performer, raising living standards sharply for a large proportion of the population. Sustained export competitiveness has been a notable achievement, both in shipbuilding and in sales of many other products including the vast quantities of consumer goods bought by countries around the world. Infrastructure building has greatly augmented growing Chinese domestic demand for manufactured goods, in turn adding to requirements for more raw materials and other commodities than could be provided from internal resources. Benefits for the world’s shipowners from the resulting imports have been very obvious.

Richard Scott
GMI Visiting Lecturer and MD, Bulk Shipping Analysis

One-Day Courses: Maritime Business in China; Maritime Crime; Maritime Genealogy

Three Course Leaflet

Fishing for Your Ancestors: Genealogy from a maritime perspective (A one-day short course)


Greenwich Maritime Institute is pleased to announce its first short course on maritime genealogy. Led by naval historian Dr Chris Ware, a frequent contributor to the ever-popular Who Do You Think You Are? TV series, and Dr Martin Wilcox, author of Fishing and Fishermen: A Guide for Family Historians, this course will help you navigate the shoal waters of maritime genealogy. Two highly experienced researchers will share their insights and practical tips on the principal archival and online sources for tracing maritime ancestors, as well as highlighting many less well known areas.

Greenwich Maritime Institute is pleased to announce its first short course on maritime genealogy. Led by naval historian Dr Chris Ware, a frequent contributor to the ever-popular Who Do You Think You Are? TV series, and Dr Martin Wilcox, author of Fishing and Fishermen: A Guide for Family Historians, this course will help you navigate the shoal waters of maritime genealogy. Two highly experienced researchers will share their insights and practical tips on the principal archival and online sources for tracing maritime ancestors, as well as highlighting many less well known areas.

Among the key sources covered will be:

  • Naval muster rolls and pay books
  • Continuous service records
  • Officers’ logs
  • Crew lists
  • Certificates of competence and service
  • Passenger records
  • Records of apprentices
  • Company and personal papers

The course will take place on Thursday 13th June from 9.30am – 4.30pm. The cost is £90 per person which includes lunch, refreshments, course materials and a certificate of attendance. A booking form can be found on the Greenwich Maritime Institute website:

Fishing Image 250 pixels

Maritime Crime: Piracy, Smuggling, Wrecking and Watery Whodunnits (A one-day short course)


The Greenwich Maritime Institute invites you to dive into a dark whirlpool of wrongdoing, past and present. Piracy, committed for private gain, is a form of maritime crime often in the headlines, but it is far from the only one. Led by Professor of Maritime Security Chris Bellamy, Dr Cathryn Pearce, author on wrecking, and Dr Helen Doe from Exeter University, an authority on smuggling, you will navigate through the depths of mankind’s misdeeds on the high seas, rivers and ashore.

The course will explore four main types of sea crime: piracy; wrecking; smuggling; and the wide variety of crimes committed aboard cruise ships, merchant ships and luxury yachts. Among the issues covered will be:

  • What is maritime crime?
  • Piracy then and now
  • Wrecking then and now
  • Smuggling then and now
  • Maritime murder

The course will take place on Wednesday 12th June 2012 from 9.30am – 4.30pm. The cost is £90 per person which includes lunch, refreshments, course materials and a certificate of attendance. A booking form can be found on the Greenwich Maritime Institute website:

Wreck image 250 pixels

A Leading Global Player: Maritime Business Activities in China (A one-day short course)


The China Maritime Centre is holding a one-day course on Monday 10th June 2013 in Greenwich, UK.

Over the last decade China has become the leading influence shaping global seaborne trade, as result of a remarkable upsurge in trade volumes. This GMI short course will be led by the Director of China Maritime Centre Dr Minghua Zhao, international shipping analyst Richard Scott and researcher Yifan Liao who specialises in ship recycling. The aim of the course is to investigate how, and explain why, China has become such a prominent part of the global maritime scene within a relatively short period since the early 2000s, and to provide some clues about future trends.  

The course will focus on three specific areas of growth within the maritime industry in China:

 •China’s maritime trade and ports: a remarkable expansion

 •The rapidly growing China-owned merchant ship fleets

 •A new era for shipbuilding and ship recycling in China

The cost is £90 per person which includes lunch, refreshments, course materials and a certificate of attendance. A booking form can be found on the Greenwich Maritime Institute website:

Chinese Port

Port Levies and Sustainable Welfare for Seafarers

The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) has just published a report ‘Port levies and Sustainable Welfare for Seafarers’. The report details best practice in establishing and operating port levies around the world. It documents how levies make a real difference to welfare organisations and the services that they are able to provide for seafarers, at a time when funding for seafarers’ welfare is under pressure.

This report was authored by Dr Olivia Swift, a Research Associate with Greenwich Maritime Institute (GMI), who conducted a survey with seafarers centres and other maritime charity organisations involved in providing welfare service for seafarers worldwide.

This report is being launched in the run up to the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 coming into force on 20 August 2013. The Convention states that “Every seafarer has the right to health protection, medical care, welfare measures and other forms of social protection.” (Article IV). The Convention guidelines on the financing of welfare facilities include: “levies or other special dues from shipping sources”. (Guideline B4.4.4).

‘Port levies and sustainable welfare for seafarers’ was launched at an ISWAN seminar: ‘How can port levies help deliver welfare provisions in the MLC, 2006?’, held on 21 May 2013 at the Baltic Exchange, London. Dr Olivia Swift presented the main findings to the seminar, which was attended by GMI deputy director Dr Minghua Zhao and three other researchers from the Institute along with about 20 other delegates from across the world who have specialist experiences and expertise on issues concerning welfare for seafarers. Dr Minghua Zhao said, ‘Port levies seem to offer a good way to help secure and sustain a predictable income to help shore-based welfare provisions in the Maritime Labour Convention to be implemented globally. I am delighted that my colleague Dr Swift’s research can contribute to the process’.

Olivia Swift, ISWAN Seminar
Dr Olivia Swift speaking at the ISWAN Seminar, 22 May 2013, Baltic Echange, London

Blog by Dr Minghua Zhao

Not Chatham House Rules!

On Friday 10 June HMS Illustrious, the second of the Royal Navy’s three Invincible class light aircraft/helicopter carriers, was moored just upriver from GMI. At 22,000 tons, and at 209 metres long, she is a big ship – but just half the size of the Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth that will replace her – eventually. Initially conceived as a Harrier-carrier, and able to carry 22 of the Short-Take-Off-Vertical-Landing (STOVL) planes, she has been both a light aircraft carrier, in that role, and a helicopter carrier, able to carry 22 helicopters. There could be no more appropriate place to hold a conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic, which took place in May 1943.

The Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted from 1939-1945 was probably the most crucial part of the Second World War for the UK’s survival and the subsequent liberation of western Europe. It lasted, from 1939-1945, when the last German submarines surrendered at (London) Derry, in Northern Ireland. The ‘Battle of the Atlantic Anniversary Seminar’, organised by the Royal Institute of International affairs, Chatham House, took as its theme, appropriately enough, ‘The Navy’s Role in resilience and Prosperity’. Unusually, the famous ‘Chatham House rule’ – that information gleaned might be used but not attributed to Chatham House, the speaker or the occasion, was waived. This one was on the record. So you can cite this blog!

When Royal Navy ships put it in to port for supplies, the purser and his or her team scour the hinterland for the best provisions, and London had been no exception. The Navy cooks – always superb – had produced the most impressive lunch, including truly spectacular dressed crab. With the new Billingsgate fish market just two kilometres away, at Trafalgar Way, West India Docks, Isle of Dogs, that would have been a no-brainer!

HMS Illustrious at Greenwich, 9-13 May 2013

After a welcome by Commodore Neil Brown of the Naval Staff, and Commander Keri Harris, the Second-in-Command, Professor Andrew Lambert from King’s College London opened proceedings with an account of the momentous conflict, and some interesting comparisons with now. The United Kingdom had not been self-sufficient in food production – never mind luxuries like tea and wine – since the 1780s. By 1939 the United Kingdom needed one million tons of provisions a month imported by sea.  In contrast, the United States was – and still is – self sufficient.  But, Professor Lambert noted, even at the worst moment of the Battle of the Atlantic there were more reserves of food and fuel in the UK than there are now, with our ‘just-in-time’ economy! 

A key point, reinforced in the questioning, was that the Royal Navy had responded well to the experience of World War I and the battle with the U-boats, including, for example,  the development of sonar.  But the plan was to contain German U-boats in the North Sea – which the Navy succeeded in doing until the fall of France in May 1940.  As Professor Lambert  laconically observed ‘you don’t plan for your Allies to collapse’. Good point.  After May 1940 the U-boats could operate out of French ports and far into the Atlantic (including off the coast of the United States). With U-boats loose in the Atlantic convoys bringing Lend-Lease and other  supplies from North America became targets. The stakes were suddenly raised. 

However, another crucial and countervailing development in 1940 was the German invasion of Norway.  Again, it is not widely known, but as a result most of the Norwegian merchant fleet headed for the UK, and became available as part of its merchant navy.  It took two years for the Germans to sink an equivalent number of ships.

By May 1941, however, the Germans believed the convoy system was cracking under the strain and sent the powerful surface raider the battleship (BB) Bismarck out to finish the convoys off. The sinking of the Bismarck was one crucial point in the battle.  The entry of the United States into the war in December 1941 further changed the dynamic.  The United States and Canada were no longer just supplying the UK. From then on, in operation Bolero, they were turning the UK into the jumping-off point for the invasion of north-west Europe.

Professor Lambert identified the Russian arctic convoys as the Royal Navy’s greatest ever success.  Those supplies got through in the face of a surface, submarine and air threat and the appalling weather. 

During the Battle of the Atlantic 783 U-boats were destroyed.  Laconically, again, Professor Lambert concluded,  ’75 percent fatal casualties was the German U-boat breaking point’. It was a  tough business.

Another Lambert, Dr Nicholas, from the Royal United Services Institute picked up the theme of the UK’s dependence on the sea. In 1914 the world economy was as ‘globalised’ as now, as a result of several revolutions.  In addition to the introduction of steam ships, there had been the introduction of undersea and trans-oceanic cables, permitting instant communication, and a revolution in financial services with credit easy to obtain and manage.  The UK’s national debt in 1914 was £650 million, a huge sum for the time. This global, interconnected system was rudely shocked by the First World War. Between 1914 and 1939, with the financial crises of 1929 and 1931, the world economy actually shrank.  As a result it was easier to keep it working in 1939. By 1940-41, some 55 percent of the UK’s GDP was devoted to war production, a figure never exceeded anywhere else, apart from the Soviet Union later in the war.  There was a draconian system of price controls, labour controls and rationing.  By 1941 the UK had exhausted its overseas credit.  Everything was sacrificed to win the war, without thought for the future.  The Atlantic became a pipeline along which war materiel was pumped from the US and Canada to the UK.  Yet, paradoxically, the UK’s vulnerability to disruption of its imports and supplies is greater now than it was in 1914.

After an excellent presentation by Dr Douglas Guilfoyle of University College, London, on modern challenges and the Law of the Sea, the seminar then addressed they key modern issues of the role of navies in resilience and the role of navies in prosperity. Rob Bailey from Chatham Hose explained the role of the oceans in food security, explaining that although we tend to think of the key chokepoints in terms of energy security – the Bosphorus, Suez Canal, Bab-el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz – they are just as vital for shipments of grain, which does not grow well in the Middle East. As a historical not, we might also recall that some 400,000 people died of malnutrition in Germany in 1914-18 as a result of the Allied blockade. In 2008-09 30-40 percent of Somali food requirements were met by UN food aid, so Somali piracy, which forced cessation of these shipments hit Somalia very badly.

Adjoa Anyimadu of the Africa Programme at Chatham House  addressed the naval response to piracy and the lessons to be learned from the Indian Ocean. She began by summarising the international presence, with three forces:  the EUNAVFOR and Operation Atalanta; the US-led Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 and Nato’s Operation Ocean Shield. To this we should add the one-nation contributions of China, Russia and Japan. She cited Oceans Beyond Piracy’s estimate that in 2012 Naval operations in the Indian Ocean cost more than £1 billion. Given that Somalia is a failed state, international naval action is legitimate.  The situation in west Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, where, in contrast to the Indian Ocean, piracy is on the increase, is quite different.  Here, there are Governments with authority over their territories and some rule of law. Therefore, a similar type and scale of Naval operations is unlikely.  However, there are still lessons to be drawn from the Indian Ocean. These are:

  • Capacity building – helping the local authorities to help themselves –  is crucial.  This not only applies to building coastguard and marine policy forces but the helping the shore authorities as well;
  • Intelligence gathering and information sharing is vital, including the use of new technology such as Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), helicopter cameras and so on.  This is not only useful for providing advance warning but also to assist prosecution later on;
  • Conducting multinational operations helps develop relationships between navies and nations;
  • Navies must engage with the coastal communities whence piracy and armed robbery at sea emanate. In Somalia this has taken time but encouraging the coastal communities to see themselves as stakeholders who will benefit from seeing an end to piracy has worked.  In one case, international forces have intervened to provide medical treatment for sick Somalis on board ships.  Although this was regarded as possibly too dangerous, it worked. 

Bob Dewar, also of the Chatham House Africa programme, then addressed the key issue of IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated)(the Us in that order, OK?) fishing .  He began by citing Kofi Annan, that ‘human security’ was ‘not purely military’, in terms of political violence, but also embraced health, food, the environment, human rights and the rule of law.

IUU fishing is the worst maritime threat that west Africa faces, costing that part of the world an estimated $1 billion  (as against between $9 bn and $22 bn worldwide). In West Africa, however, fish resources are really important.  The UK MoD has set up a centre in Nigeria to support the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Maritime Strategy, and countering IUU fishing plays an important part of this.  It is not just the value of the fish, but also the lost revenue from licence fees and landing fees. 

Alex Vines OBE, the Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House added to the unwelcoming picture of the Gulf of Guinea, pointing out that in addition to IUU fishing, other maritime crime accounted for another $1 billion.  Nigeria, Benin and the surrounding area are in the same insurance category as Somalia.

Douglas McWilliams, Chief Executive and Professor of Commerce at Gresham College, gave the final keynote speech. His World Economic League Table forecasts were fascinating. In 2012, the US was still the world’s largest economy, with China second,  Japan third, Germany fourth, France fifth and UK sixth.  In 2022 the top three will remain the same, with India fourth and Brazil fifth, Germany sixth, Russia seventh, UK eighth and France ninth.  But China will overtake the US in about 2025, as many have predicted. The prospect for the UK was surprisingly optimistic.  Consumer spending currently accounts for 70 percent of the UK economy and exports 30 percent.  By 2022, his group’s forecast indicates, consumer spending will have dropped to 50 percent and exports risen correspondingly. Eric Grove, from Salford University, a well-known maritime historian, was sceptical.’And what’, he said, ‘are we going to export?’ But Professor McWilliams stuck by his figures, guessing that ingenuity and high-tech I inventiveness would create the products.  Seaborne trade was down from its 2007 peak but was now growing again.  There will be plenty of imports and exports for the Royal Navy to protect.

The seminar concluded at 17.00.  The following days – Saturday and Sunday – Illustrious was open to the public.  If you want to see what the public saw, click on the links, below.


Chris Bellamy.


Deptford Plan Lacks Sense of History – David Hilling

In a letter to the Evening Standard published on 7th May 2013 David Hilling, GMI wrote:

In the redevelopment plans for Convoys Wharf in Deptford there seems to be little in the way of vision with respect to what makes places tick.

With Deptford dockyard history and Maritime Greenwich and the birthplace of The Great Eastern nearby one might have expected some recognition of the role of the Thames.  An obvious way would have been to include a modern cruise ship terminal which London sadly lacks.  It seems amazing that the developer, port operator Hutchinson Whampoa, did not think along these lines.

Wallasea Island and the Environmental History Group Field Trip

The Wallasea Island Site Visit

Please click here for a fuller PDF version of this blog

Wallasea Island was the site visited by our group of MA students on a beautiful sunny day last week. We’d been thinking about where best to go in the Thames estuary area to see in action some of the themes discussed in our environmental history course (Environmental History and the Sea: The British Isles, 1800 to 2013, part of the MA in Maritime History, at the Greenwich Maritime Institute). Wallasea was suggested by one of our students and turned out to be perfect. Political debates over port development, erosion and flooding, leisure and the coast: they’re all at Wallasea. It is here that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is developing its Wild Coast project: the largest ‘habitat creation’ scheme in Europe.

We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet up with the RSPB’s Wallasea Island Project Manager, Chris Tyas. He showed us the site and talked to us about the project’s three main inter-locking strands: Defra’s ‘Wallasea Wetlands Creation Project’, the RSPB’s Wild Coast Project, and the material provided by the Crossrail project.

Our group with the RSPB's Project Manager at Wallasea. © Vanessa Taylor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, 2013
Our group with the RSPB’s Project Manager at Wallasea.
© Vanessa Taylor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, 2013

 Wallasea Wetlands Creation Project: Allfleet’s Marsh 

Wetland 1
‘Managed re-alignment’ and the mudflats of Defra’s ‘Wallasea Wetlands Creation Project’. In the distant centre you can see places where the sea wall was breached in 2006.
© Vanessa Taylor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, 2013
Wetland 2
Looking north east across new salt marsh towards Crossrail’s unloading site (see below).
© Vanessa Taylor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, 2013

These mudflats and salt marshes are part of a new site – Allfleet’s Marsh – created by Dept of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2005-06 for the Wallasea Wetlands Creation Project.
The project arose from a protracted political and legal dispute over port development and the preservation of coastal wetlands. Two East Coast areas earmarked for port expansion were excluded from designation as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) on the grounds of their socio-economic importance. (The areas were: parts of the Lappel Bank on the Medway, developed by the Port of Sheerness, and Fagbury Flats in the Orwell estuary, developed by the Port of Felixstowe). The conservationist case was argued by the RSPB. They took it to the European Court of Justice, who in 1996 decided that socio-economic importance was not a valid reason for exclusion from designation as an SPA under EU legislation (the Birds and Habitats Directives). This was confirmed in a legal ruling of the House of Lords in 1997. Retrospective action was taken by the government to create a new coastal wetland habitat in compensation, elsewhere within the Greater Thames Estuary Natural Area. Wallasea Island was ultimately chosen as the new site.
Defra worked with the Environment Agency, English Nature (now Natural England) and RSPB on the project. Breaches were made in the old sea wall and the sea now pours twice a day into this area of 284 acres (115 hectares), up to the new sea wall. ABP mer (Associated British Ports Marine Environmental Research) have been responsible for the environmental monitoring of the project. The RSPB manage the site.
There is still debate about the efficacy of habitat compensation sites. Can newly created habitats adequately compensate for long-established habitats, now lost? A good place to start for academic research on intertidal habitat creation is the work of Alastair Grant, Hannah Mossman and others at the University of East Anglia. See: ‘Restoration and Creation of Saltmarshes and Other Intertidal Habitats’ at

Wallasea Island and the RSPB’s Wild Coast Project

Wallasea Island is part of what is sometimes called the ‘Essex Archipelago’: the network of islands created by rivers and estuaries that flow into the North Sea, including Havengore, Potton Island, Foulness, Canvey Island and others. Wallasea itself is located between the Crouch estuary to the north and the Roach estuary to the south.
According to an RSPB article, Wallasea was once five distinct saltmarsh ‘islands’, used by farmers for grazing. The area was converted to arable land in the inter-war years, with the building of sea defences and land drainage. It was hit badly by the 1953 flood and has since relied on sea walls for protection.
The RSPB’s current Wild Coast Project expands this Defra scheme, developing the largest ‘habitat creation’ site in Europe. Almost 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of salt marsh, mudflats, saline lagoons and freshwater areas are being created to provide a diversity of habitats. The land behind the existing sea wall currently lies around two meters below sea level. So the level of the land needs to be raised before further development. This is where the earth dug up by Crossrail comes in (see below). In due course, the existing sea wall will be removed and new sea defences built further back as part of the process of ‘managed realignment’. The project is due for completion in 2020 and will be managed by the RSPB.
Plant life is already becoming established on Defra’s mudflats: the evocatively named glasswort (now sold in shops as marsh samphire), sea purslane, common saltmarsh grass, and clumps of Spartina Anglica. Like many non-native species now found in Britain, the Spartina family is part of our maritime legacy. It’s thought to have first arrived in the nineteenth century in the ballast water of ships docking at Southampton Water. There is also English scurvy-grass here, at one time eaten by those at sea to ward off scurvy.
None of us in the group were committed bird watchers but it is impossible to visit an RSPB reserve and not be seduced by the birdlife. There were linnets flying up from the grassy sea wall as we walked along it. We saw whimbrels and little egrets, and undoubtedly missed many more. The island though won’t really come into its own as a haven for birds until site construction is over.
A visit to Wallasea Island shows that there is much more to the Essex coast for visitors than the seaside resorts of Southend and Clacton-on-Sea. Places like Wallasea, Northey Island (run by the National Trust) and Abbotts Hall Farm (Essex Wildlife Trust) are part of a new kind of coastal tourism. Here, habitat restoration is at the heart of the tourist attraction.
For more on the East Coast see, for example, Jules Pretty’s coastal journey round Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk in This Luminous Coast (Full Circle Editions, 2011). For something shorter, this is his article: ‘Discover Wild Essex’ at 

The Crossrail Connection
Crossrail is the Transport for London subsidiary currently working on a major new rail route being constructed under London. As part of its environmental remit, millions of tonnes of earth from the tunnelling are being conveyed by ship to Wallasea Island.
Mostly London Clay, sand and gravels, this material will be shipped up to five times a day when at maximum capacity, from Northfleet, Barking Riverside and Instone Wharf on the Thames. The material will form the base for the first phase of the island’s new landscape. Shipments have begun, with vessels from the Hav fleet. Both the Port of London Authority and Crouch Harbour Authority have piloting responsibilities for the shipping. This project is partly a response to long-standing demands for better use of the River Thames as a highway for freight transport.

Crossrail 1
The Crossrail conveyor belt running from the river’s edge to the spreader trucks.
Crossrail 2
Images © Vanessa Taylor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, 2013

Wallasea and Witches

For lunch we went to The Anchor pub in the village of Canewdon near the western entrance to Wallasea Island. Canewdon has a long association with witchcraft and the punishment of witches. It still has a reputation as one of the most haunted places in the UK. Halloween, according to the pub landlord, is their busiest night of the year. The pub is decorated for Halloween all year round.

The Anchor Pub, Canewdon
© Vanessa Taylor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, 2013

Environmental History and the Sea: The MA Option

Environmental History and the Sea: The British Isles, 1800 to 2013 is an option on the MA in Maritime History at the Greenwich Maritime Institute (a specialist post-graduate institute within the University of Greenwich.)
Sessions include: Coastal Environment and Planning  Port Development and the Environment  Coastal Erosion and Flooding  Fisheries, Habitats and the Marine Environment  Offshore Oil and Gas  Land-Based Pollution and the Sea  Shipping Industry and the Environment  Estuaries: Thames as a Case Study  Leisure and the Sea  Marine Environmental History (Concepts and Sources)  Marine Environment and the Future.

River Crouch Shipping
Shipping, old and new, on the River Crouch
© Vanessa Taylor, GMI, 2013

How to get to Wallasea Island

You can get to Wallasea Island: by train to Rochford (then taxi – not the cheapest option, as I found) on the Liverpool Street to Southend line; by car; or at weekends and bank holidays in the summer by ferry from Burnham-on-Crouch, on the north bank of the River Crouch. The Visit Essex and RSPB Wallasea Island Wild Coast websites have details.

Dr Vanessa Taylor

Dr Vanessa Taylor is Course Tutor on the ‘Environmental History and the Sea: The British Isles, 1800 to 2013’ option. A GMI Research Fellow, Vanessa is also part of the team on the current GMI research project ‘Running the River Thames: London, Stakeholders and the Environmental Governance of the River Thames, 1960-2010’.