Restoring saltmarshes in the Blackwater Estuary

Essex Wildlife Trust have partnered with the Environment Agency to restore valuable saltmarsh and coastal defences in the Blackwater Estuary at Essex Wildlife Trust’s Abbotts Hall Farm nature reserve.

The pilot project involves installing coir structures within selected creeks to encourage sediment accumulation and plant growth, protecting the saltmarsh habitat. This autumn, a team of dedicated volunteers and employees from both Essex Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency braved the cold weather to install 14 of the coir structures. Each structure consists of 3 to 6 rolls, made from a sustainable coconut waste product, held together with hessian rope that is secured in the saltmarsh with chestnut stakes.

The extent and quality of Essex Saltmarshes has been declining due to development, rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency of storms seen in recent years. A study looking at the rate of erosion in Essex saltmarshes found that after a 25-year period, 1000 ha of saltmarsh had been lost. Saltmarshes provide ecosystem services such as reducing flood risks and the effects of storm surges as well as acting as a carbon sink. These key habitats also provide an important feeding ground and refuge for nationally scarce plants, insects, juvenile fish species such as Bass and Gobies and internationally important numbers of birds, such as Shoveler and Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Saltmarshes epitomise the Essex coastline and are valuable habitats for both wildlife and people, but their extent and quality is declining. Our joint project with the Environment Agency uses an experimental and low-cost approach to try and combat this degradation and our volunteers have been key in implementing this project.

The progress of the project will be monitored to see if this low-cost sea defence technique is successful and if it has the potential to be used at other saltmarsh sites as an effective restoration technique.

We hope these coir roll structures will make a valuable contribution in restoring and protecting these important habitats for wildlife and for people.