WWT is part of a group set to develop a new “Saltmarsh Code” that could pave the way for £1 billion investment in restoring England’s degraded saltmarshes in order to mitigate climate change, support wildlife and reduce flood risk.
The consortium of charities, scientists and financial experts, including WWT, has secured a £100,000 grant from the Government’s new Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund. Together, the group will develop scientific and revenue models plus a certification scheme for UK projects wanting to attract private investment by selling companies the carbon benefits that will result from restoring saltmarshes.
In a natural state, these important coastal wetland habitats – through build-up of sediment and vegetation – trap and bury carbon at a greater rate, per area, than terrestrial habitats such as forests or peatlands. However, since the 1800s, large areas of saltmarsh have been drained, to reclaim land from the sea for agriculture, development or coastal flood defences – resulting in loss of habitat and biodiversity.
Saltmarsh Restoration involves creating a gap in the current sea walls, in order to reflood previously reclaimed land so saltmarshes are reconnected to the tidal flow. It can also involve landscaping measures to help tidal waters flow in and out, and constructing replacement sea defences inland.
There is growing interest in carbon credits by companies seeking to voluntarily offset their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and motivated by corporate social responsibility. The planned UK Saltmarsh Carbon Code will operate on a similar basis to the Peatland Code and Woodland Code, and it is hoped the scheme will pave the way for at least £1 billion of private investment in restoration projects over 25 years, covering 22,000 hectares of habitat.
WWT’s Senior Project Manager for Wetland Landscapes Tim McGrath said that because new saltmarshes locked away carbon at rates higher than woodland and other habitats, the work the consortium would be carrying out could significantly contribute to helping the country reach its net zero targets.
“The new Saltmarsh Carbon Code focusses on tidal or ‘Blue’ carbon, and will allow financial investment to go directly into the creation of coastal wetland - habitats that readily store carbon locking it away for generations,” he said.
“For the first time in the UK a carbon code based on Blue Carbon is being created that benefits coastal wetlands, creating places that are incredibly important for people and biodiversity”.
Healthy saltmarsh habitats have a variety of environmental benefits including:
Saltmarshes trap and bury atmospheric carbon in to the sediment beneath them, through storing sediment from the tidal water that floods over them, and by the vegetation that grows on them.Restoring 22,000 hectares of saltmarsh, as planned, would store at least an additional 88,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
Restoration will reverse some of the loss of saltmarsh, as well as the plants and animals the habitat supports, including overwintering migratory birds and commercially important fish species such as sea bass. Saltmarsh is included in the European Habitats Directive which ensures the conservation of rare and threatened species.
Saltmarshes act as natural buffer zones, reducing wave height and energy before they can reach properties, roads, and buildings. The rising cost of constructing and maintaining sea defences means there is increasing interest in natural methods to reduce flood risk.
The consortium developing the Saltmarsh Carbon Code comprises UKCEH, the Wildlife & Wetlands Trust (WWT), RSPB, the University of St Andrews, Bangor University, SRUC, IUCN National Committee UK, Finance Earth and Jacobs.