Climate change is here now, and storm surges and rising sea levels are already putting pressure on Britain’s unique coastal landscape.
The low-lying Somerset Levels have been prone to freshwater flooding in the past, with devastating downpours wreaking destruction on hundreds of homes, businesses and schools across the county.
Low-lying land is increasingly under threat from flooding at high tides, and because historically we’ve built on our wetlands it is often in this zone where thousands of homes and businesses lie.
What we’re doing
The threat is very real for people living on the Steart Peninsula with everything to lose. By working together with the Environment Agency, we came up with a solution based on the views of the local community and the suitability of the landscape for wetland wildlife. A plan was drawn up that would radically transform the ever-changing coast to benefit the people and wildlife in the region.
Image credit: Google Earth
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.
Vast new saltmarsh formed as the ebb and flow of the tides cut channels and deposited silt and the seeds of salt tolerant plants. This acts as a vast buffer for the new embankments, sapping energy from the tides and protecting nearby properties.
Steart Marshes proves you can defend homes and businesses using wetland technology that works with nature, not against it.
It is a key part of the Severn Estuary flood management, which safeguards 100,000 establishments worth £5 billion in places like Cardiff, Newport, Berkeley, Avonmouth, Portishead, Clevedon and Burnham.
An artist's impression of how the breach might change the landscape of the Steart peninsula
- WWT Steart Marshes is managed as both productive farmland and a nature reserve. The saltmarsh creeks have become nurseries for commercial fish stocks such as sea bass.
- Longhorn cows, a traditional British breed, have been grazing on the saltmarshes in Somerset for four years. This robust cow, happy to feed on scrub and marshland, has been attracting the interest of some of London’s finest eateries.
- Added to the value of the flood defences, it is estimated that WWT Steart Marshes produces between half and £1 million worth of additional goods and services every year.
- Paths, bridleways and hides have been created and improved to help more people enjoy the landscape. Such a wide range of opportunities at Steart Marshes attracts help from many volunteers. It also provides a place for local young people to learn conservation and heritage skills that lead to jobs later on.