Managing coastal change at the Steart peninsula
Our coastline is constantly changing, and the specific conditions along the Steart peninsula provide an opportunity to manage these changes to create habitat for wildlife and improve flood defence.
The Steart peninsula on the Somerset coast juts out into the Bristol Channel at the mouth of the River Parrett.
For years the low-lying ground on the peninsula has been protected from some of the largest tides in the world by shingle sea defences. Now, as sea levels are rising, it is becoming unfeasible to maintain those particular defences.
The Environment Agency – the body responsible – spotted an opportunity to create much needed saltmarsh at the same time as protecting the community at Steart from flooding. WWT has been chosen to manage the new habitat.
This new saltmarsh habitat will be created by deliberately breaching the man-made sea defences so that certain coastal areas are flooded and reclaimed by the sea. This will create a nature reserve on the Severn Estuary, with about 500 hectares of new wildlife habitat.
Coastal change and saltmarshes
Due to coastal change, large areas of saltmarsh in the UK have been lost. For example, it is estimated that 20% of the saltmarsh resource in Kent and Essex was lost between 1973 and 1988. To compensate for such loss, the work at Steart will allow saltmarsh habitat to develop. Once established, saltmarsh can act as a sea defence by dispersing wave energy and reducing erosion rates. It also creates an important refuge for a whole range of species.
Saltmarsh provides wading birds and wildfowl with shelter, breeding sites and a source of food. The creation of the new habitat at Steart could increase the number of a range of species including dunlin, redshank, lapwing, grey plover, curlew, black-tailed godwit and sanderling. Saltmarshes are also nurseries for several fish species.
The newly created marshes will flood approximately 100 times a year. A creek system will develop from the channels dug during the development, with new smaller creeks growing around its edges. Over time the site will become a fully-vegetated Atlantic salt marsh
Benefits for wildlife and people
The new landscape will see the creation of:
- a wildlife rich wetland landscape
- a car park located south of Marsh Farm, with a toilet facility and an information point from which visitors can explore the area
- the River Parrett Trail will be realigned, giving views across the coastline and freshwater wetlands
- paths with gentle gradients, suitable for wheelchairs and pedestrians, will give access to viewing areas and hides at vantage points over the landscape
- Cyclists and horse riders will also have access to the reserve
Opportunities to get involved
There will be no shortage of opportunities for volunteers with many different skills. To manage the site and help engage visitors, we will need:
- Physical help maintaining and managing the reserve
- help monitoring and recording wildlife
- enthusiastic people to talk to visitors and interpret this landscape for them
WWT is looking to reach out to local schools and community groups in innovative ways, building on the success of the recent Somerset Coastal Change Pathfinder.
We are discussing opportunities with local colleges to develop training in heritage and land management at Steart, so the skills needed at Steart are established within the local community.
The Bristol Port Company (TBPC) is also seeking to create wetland habitat on the peninsula. We are working closely with TBPC to ensure the schemes are complementary and provide the best overall solution to flood risk and wildlife.