Rising sea levels are predicted to completely flood thousands of hectares of saltmarsh and mudflats over the next 50 years. These habitats are important feeding places for many birds and fish. They are also a natural buffer against the sea, which protects us against the worst storms and tides. At many places along the coast there is no choice but to build higher defences to protect homes and businesses. But at some places, such as Steart Marshes, it is possible to realign the coastline allowing new saltmarsh to form. These newly created saltmarshes go some way to replacing those lost to the sea. They're a cheaper and more sustainable way to protect against flooding into the future and they create much needed space for wildlife.
This is change at a landscape scale and it affects the safety of people's homes and businesses, so decisions were taken very carefully and with the full involvement of the local community. WWT and the Environment Agency invited people from the surrounding villages to hear the proposal and listened to their suggestions and concerns. Over a series of face to face meetings the group came up with a revised proposal that everyone was happy to support. There were no objections to the planning application and all the land for the project was sold voluntarily by the landowners. The community continued to be closely involved with the project through the construction, and even came up with the name: Steart Marshes. Today, many of the volunteers that help manage the reserve, monitor wildlife and welcome visitors live in the villages that fringe Steart Marshes.
A working wetland
Wetlands are amazing for wildlife, but they can also do a lot of great stuff for people. The more reasons we can give people to love wetlands, the more chances we'll get to create, restore and protect them. Steart Marshes is WWT's first big Working Wetland. It's home to a vast array of wildlife and it's a place that people love to visit. But as well as that, it's locking away carbon from the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to climate change. The development of new saltmarsh is a rare opportunity so WWT is supporting academic research to measure how much carbon is absorbed. Steart Marshes was once arable farmland and it continues to be farmed with livestock by local graziers who are able to market saltmarsh lamb and beef for a premium because its flavour is valued by food lovers. The tidal creeks that run across Steart Marshes shelter fish fry. The fish attract herons and egrets but they are also from commercially important species such as sea bass. Another feature of the site is that waste water from the public loos goes through a treatment wetland, a more natural way to treat waste and itself creates additional habitats for wildlife.