Super Saltmarsh – Our Homegrown Habitat Hero

Within the shores of Chichester Harbour sits a superhero.  Part land, part sea, its lower reaches obscured as the tide washes in, are swathes of SUPER SALTMARSH!

This habitat hero is fringed by mudflats; from a distance saltmarsh looks green and grassy, criss-crossed with tiny creeks.  It is often overlooked by the casual observer.  But our saltmarsh is a powerhouse in the fight against climate change, and that’s just one of its superpowers…

Superpower #1 – Biodiversity

Saltmarsh is a haven for so many species.  As well as supporting plant, insect and invertebrate life it is a nursery for young fish and shellfish, a sheltered environment for them to safely grow.   Chichester Harbour is GLOBALLY important for many threatened bird species, and super saltmarsh is vital for these – providing a food source as well as safe nesting and roosting sites.

Superpower #2 – Climate Change

Saltmarsh is a superhero in the fight against climate change, locking away vast quantities of carbon each year.  As well as absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it buries or sinks carbon as new sediment is brought in on the tide.  We might think of tropical forests leading the way when it comes to carbon, but one hectare of saltmarsh can store many times more carbon than the same area of tropical forest. 

Read more about wetlands ability to store carbon here.

Superpower #3 – Water Quality

Saltmarsh is a natural sponge, filtering run-off from the land and reducing herbicides, pesticides and heavy metals entering the harbour.  It also absorbs some of the excess nutrients coming into the harbours and estuaries where it grows.

Superpower #4 – Flood Defence

Stormy seas?  Super saltmarsh takes the strain!  The height of the habitat absorbs the energy of incoming waves providing natural protection to the shoreline.  It’s a nature-based solution to the problem of defending land from sea.

What a hero!  But our hero is under threat…  The saltmarsh within Chichester Harbour has declined by 58% since 1946 and we’re losing more each year.  Saltmarsh’s adversaries include sea-level rise and being squeezed out by hard sea defences.  The deforestation of tropical rainforests has been well-documented, but the loss of saltmarsh and other wetland habitats right here on our doorstep is not widely known, even amongst those of us living here. 

But the fight to save our saltmarsh has begun.  Chichester Harbour Conservancy is leading a coalition of partners working to protect and restore this habitat hero within Chichester Harbour

“Chichester Harbour is one of the most important sites for wildlife in the UK and our saltmarsh is amongst our most precious of habitats.  With the global fight against climate change forefront in everyone’s mind, we must work together to ensure this vital natural resource is protected, enhanced and restored.”

Matt Briers, CEO Chichester Harbour Conservancy

From an article written by Chichester Harbour Conservancy for the Portsmouth News, published in August 2023.