Hesketh Out Marsh, a wildlife reserve in 160 hectares of new saltmarsh has been specially created to improve flood protection and boost wildlife habitats on the Ribble estuary in Lancashire.

The new reserve ensures stronger sea defences by a process known as 'managed realignment', and is one of the largest of its kind in the UK. The £6 million scheme is a partnership project between two government bodies – Natural England and the Environment Agency – and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve is part of a joint National Nature Reserve (NNR) strategy with Natural England and will become part of the existing Ribble Estuary NNR later in 2017. On completion, the full RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve will include 340 hectares of saltmarsh and will be the largest site of its kind in the north of England.

RSPB and Natural England will jointly manage the two parts of the site as effectively one large reserve, alongside the Lytham and District Wildfowlers Association who support the management of the north side of the NNR.

The Ribble Estuary NNR is already England’s third largest National Nature Reserve, and the most important single estuary site in the country for birds.

In addition to work breaching the banks at Hesketh Outmarsh East by the Environment Agency, the project has involved strengthening and raising the height of two kilometres of flood banks. This has reduced the flood risk to more than 140 properties and 300 hectares of prime farmland nearby.

Funding for the important project was made up of almost £2 million funding from the Landfill Communities Fund monies from waste management company FCC Environment through the not-for-profit awarding body WREN, and £3.7 million Government funding to reduce flood risk.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: "Hesketh is a win-win scenario – a fantastic scheme which not only works with nature to reduce flood risk but also brings benefits the wider environment and local communities. Through partnership working we can achieve more and Hesketh proves that."

Robin Horner, RSPB Area Manager said: “These improved coastal defences, fronted by saltmarsh, deliver much needed local climate change adaptation and provide invaluable new wildlife habitat close to Britain’s most important single river estuary for birds.”

Natural England Chair, Andrew Sells said: “The launch of the new joint NNR Strategy will demonstrate latest approaches for creating landscapes that deliver more public benefits such as people’s health and wellbeing, and enabling wildlife to spill over and enrich the surrounding countryside.”