Using wetlands to manage the impacts of climate change

We need to be brave and bold if we’re to deal with the impacts of climate change. Steart Marshes proves you can protect homes and businesses using wetland technology that works with nature, not against it.

Climate change is here now. Storm surges and rising sea levels are already putting pressure on Britain’s unique coastal landscape.

That threat is very real for people living on the Steart peninsula and they have worked with WWT and the Environment Agency to come up with a solution.

WWT Steart Marshes directly protects their homes and businesses, as well as part of the National Grid. It is a key part of the Severn Estuary’s flood management, which protects 100,000 homes and businesses worth £5 billion in places like Cardiff, Newport, Berkeley, Avonmouth, Portishead, Clevedon and Burnham.

To create WWT Steart Marshes new embankments were built a kilometre or more inland. In September 2014 the old embankments were breached, allowing the tide to cover 300 hectares of low-lying land for the first time in centuries.

Saltmarsh will form as the ebb and flow of the tides cuts channels and deposits silt and the seeds of salt tolerant plants. The new saltmarsh will act as a vast buffer for the new embankments, sapping energy from the tides and protecting nearby villages.

WWT Steart Marshes is managed as both productive farmland and a nature reserve. In time, the saltmarsh creeks should become a nursery for commercial fish stocks such as sea bass. 

Added to the value of the flood defences and recreation, it’s estimated that WWT Steart Marshes will produce between half and £1 million worth of goods and services every year.

Paths, bridleways and hides have been created and improved to help more people enjoy the landscape. WWT plan to develop opportunities at Steart Marshes for young people to learn conservation and heritage skills that will lead to jobs for the South West.

Saltmarshes are part of Britain’s rich coastal heritage. It’s the landscape that inspired Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and many paintings by JMW Turner. As well as protecting the country from coastal flooding, and filtering pollution that would otherwise flow into the sea, saltmarshes are home to some of Britain’s most iconic wildlife – the Severn Estuary saltmarshes alone support more than 70,000 water birds.