A CONSERVATION project is underway which will help retain a vital saltmarsh habitat over the next century.

Saltmarsh, due to its ability to store carbon, is one of the key habitat types which needs protecting to help tackle the climate crisis.

This coastal habitat is also at risk due to rising sea levels.

Northey Island, cared for by the National Trust, is the single largest block of saltmarsh in the Blackwater Estuary.

The trust is with the RSPB, funded through the EU Life project, to protect, strengthen and enhance this saltmarsh habitat.

Through this project, the National Trust is putting in place further climate change adaptation measures to protect the future of the Blackwater Estuary.

The current stage of the project includes improving and extending the existing central bank made of clay using material obtained from the creation of a freshwater pond and drainage system on the Island.

This improved bank will protect the north of the Island from flooding and allow for the managed creation of new saltmarsh to the southeast, over the next few years.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Northey Island annotated. Credit: Jeff Kew, RSPBNorthey Island annotated. Credit: Jeff Kew, RSPB

The new freshwater pond and drainage system will also provide an important water source for birds to drink and wash the salt from their feathers.

The project also continues vital work started by the National Trust 30 years ago when Northey Island was the first site ever in England to carry out managed realignment to its shoreline in efforts to recreate saltmarsh habitat.


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In 1991 and 2018/19 work undertaken by the conservation charity resulted in two areas of healthy saltmarsh which are now thriving with a variety of wildlife.

Daniel Leggett, coastal projects manager at the National Trust said: "Without management the whole 90 hectares of saltmarsh at Northey will be lost in the next 70 to 100 years.

"The saltmarsh on the island is shrinking due to wave erosion and stronger tidal flows, which are the result of sea level rise - one of the impacts of climate change.

"With higher tides, the saltmarsh and creek margins are eroding and sea water is overtopping the banks and flowing over the top of the saltmarsh more frequently.

"The changes are impacting wildlife.

"With sea levels rising the plants are running out of space and being squeezed out of existence between the rising tides and fixed man-made defences.

"Although we will inevitably lose some areas of saltmarsh due to sea level rise, this work should help us protect at least 50 to 60 hectares, create 10 hectares of new saltmarsh and raise a further five hectares to a sustainable height above the tides."

Around 15 per cent of all UK intertidal habitat has been lost since 1945, including 18,000 hectares of saltmarsh.

Daniel added: "Our work at Northey is a good example of how nature-based solutions can offer sustainable response to the climate and nature crisis.

"In a relatively small area a wide range of techniques are demonstrated that can be applied more widely to help sustain the species that live here and use the saltmarsh, improve biodiversity, store carbon and provide natural flood management to reduce flood and erosion risks."

The saltmarsh habitat at Northey Island also offers a range of environmental benefits, including natural flood management and locking away more carbon than any other coastal habitat in the UK.

"The work we’ve already done has created a healthy, functioning, ecosystem that has existed for 30 years and demonstrated a technique that has now allowed over 3,000 hectares of intertidal area to be recreated across the UK to date.

"The techniques implemented at Northey Island between 2018 and 2020 have already locked up the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted from a standard family car driving 28,885 miles – that’s the equivalent of driving all the way around planet earth 1.16 times.

"The latest coastal adaptation work will add to this important tally."

For more information visit nationaltrust.org.uk/northey-island.