There is an estimated 45,000 hectares of saltmarsh habitat in the UK with an estimated 38,000 hectares around the coastline in England. Predictions indicate a significant proportion of the habitat could be lost due to climate change over the next century.
However, the National Trust have now released plans to protect vital saltmarsh habitat at the Blackwater Estuary at Northey Island in Essex over the next century.
Saltmarsh, due to its ability to store carbon, is one of the key habitat types that needs protecting to help tackle the climate crisis. Often referred to as blue carbon, saltmarsh and seagrass represent the largest sedimentary carbon store of the coastal and marine habitats.
This coastal habitat is also very unique, less than half a per cent (0.5 per cent) of the landmass in the UK, and is currently at risk due to rising sea levels due to the climate crisis.
Northey Island, cared for by the National Trust, is the single largest block of saltmarsh in the Blackwater Estuary and this latest phase of work will protect and strengthen the saltmarsh and wider habitats by applying a range of innovative management approaches over the next few years.
The current stage of the project includes improving and extending the existing central bank made of clay using material obtained from the creation of a freshwater pond and drainage system on the Island.
This improved bank will protect the north of the Island from flooding and allow for the managed creation of new saltmarsh to the southeast, over the next few years.
The new freshwater pond and drainage system will also provide an important water source for birds to drink and wash the salt from their feathers.
The project continues vital work started by the National Trust 30 years ago when Northey Island was the first site ever in England to carry out managed realignment to its shoreline in efforts to recreate saltmarsh habitat.
In 1991 and 2018/19 work undertaken by the conservation charity resulted in two areas of healthy saltmarsh, approx. 1.7 hectares, which are now thriving with an amazing variety of wildlife.
Daniel Leggett, Coastal Projects Manager at the National Trust says:
Approximately 15 per cent of all UK intertidal habitat has been lost since 1945, including 18,000 hectares of saltmarsh.
As well as supporting a wide range of species such as samphire, marsh mallow, marsh harriers and flounder, the saltmarsh habitat at Northey Island provides feeding sites and shelter for wintering wading birds and waterfowl, such as brent geese. It also offers a range of environmental benefits, including natural flood management and locking away more carbon than any other coastal habitat in the UK.
Leigh Lock, Species Programme Manager for the RSPB said: