Ecological Comparisons of Sedimentary Shores

Volume 151 of the series Ecological Studies pp 173-192

Biological and Physical Processes That Affect Saltmarsh Erosion and Saltmarsh Restoration: Development of Hypotheses

  • R. G. Hughes

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Saltmarsh habitats are under increasing threat, particularly from sea-level rise (SLR) associated with global warming and increased wave action associated with climate change. The saltmarshes of southeastern England, which developed for several centuries under conditions of local SLR, are now disappearing rapidly. These marshes offer the potential for study of the processes that determine loss of vegetation, and of the processes necessary for the managed amelioration of these losses, as some experimental managed realignment schemes are in progress. Burd (1992) reported that, in the 15 years prior to 1988, the total losses of saltmarsh vegetation in the estuaries of southeastern England, from the River Orwell in Suffolk to the Swale in Kent, varied from 23 % in the Blackwater to 44 % in the Stour (Fig. 8.1). Most of the losses were from the pioneer zone where up to 74% was lost during the same period. Loss of these marshes is causing concern because of the reduction in protection offered by the vegetation to the sea walls that surround most of this coastline, and because of the conservation importance of these habitats. These estuaries contain about 28,000 ha of mudflats and 8500 ha of vegetated saltmarshes, of which about 85 % is internationally important, largely because of their use by migrating and overwintering birds.