Heidi Burgess at a salt marsh

Vital environmental spur to saltmarsh protection

Dr Heidi Burgess from the University of Brighton has contributed to a new handbook designed to help drive the restoration of crucial inter-tidal zones.

The Saltmarsh Restoration Handbook was launched on November 5 at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, and highlights the vital role saltmarshes play in the environment. They are an important habitat for many flora and fauna, including being an essential nursery for young fish. Their destruction is now understood as a significant factor in the decline of some fish stocks, as well as potentially impacting in the catastrophic crash in crustacean numbers along the open coast of Sussex, and shellfish numbers within Chichester Harbour.

These distinctive inter-tidal habitats also store carbon at a faster rate than tropical rainforests, and can boost flood resilience and mitigate growing risks of coastal erosion. Yet a large proportion of the saltmarshes in the UK and around the world have been lost, used as landfill sites or converted for agricultural use and development land.

Awareness of the importance of saltmarshes has surged in recent years, prompting increased efforts to restore these unique intertidal habitats by working with the environment rather than against it. One key example has been the Medmerry Managed Realignment Project in West Sussex, completed in 2013. Forming the largest open-coast scheme in Europe, it was hailed by the Environment Agency as one of the most sustainable projects it has ever delivered.

The Saltmarsh Restoration Handbook pulls together work across a number of disciplines such as hydro-dynamics and sediment dynamics, providing an invaluable single point of guidance for future restoration projects. As a downloadable digital publication it covers conception and legal issues through to public engagement, construction and monitoring.

Dr. Heidi Burgess is a Principal Lecturer in the Centre for Aquatic Environments, and as a Chartered Civil Engineer and scientist has spent more than 20 years working on issues around shoreline environments along the south coast from Portchester to Dungeness. She said: “We need to push marine habitat protection and restoration – including saltmarsh – as high up on the government agenda as possible. This is vital to have any chance of achieving the 15% target the Restoring Meadows, Marsh and Reef (ReMeMaRe) initiative is aiming to achieve.

“This handbook will provide the practical support which industry and community partnerships need to help successfully restore functioning saltmarsh habitat, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The Saltmarsh Restoration Handbook is part of a quartet of restoration guidelines, alongside those developed for native oyster reef habitats, seagrass habitats, and habitat creation using dredged sediments. The launch edition of the handbook is now available to download for free.

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