A team of scientists has come from all corners of the UK to unlock the mysteries of man-made coastal wetlands for the community.

These ambitious projects aim to provide both long-term flood defences and natural-looking, enjoyable landscapes.

Sites have been blooming all over the UK since 1991 - 42 completed projects and counting!

Steart Marshes, managed by the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust (WWT), is one of the largest projects yet with over 400 hectares of saltwater and freshwater habitats.

You can watch how the Steart Marshes were created in this WWT video.

Community open days

Now, residents of all ages can find out more about this innovative ecological science at a series of fascinating and interactive open days.

You can chat with the scientists at this stunning area of Somerset to discover how homes and businesses are being protected from rising sea levels while simultaneously providing a habitat for a rich mix of wetland wildlife including otters, egrets, owls, waders and wildfowl.

It is a joint project between the WWT and scientists from Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Southampton, Plymouth University and Bangor University.

Dr Hannah Mossman, Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “Studying sites like Steart can help us improve the design of future man-made wetlands so they can bring maximum benefits to their local communities. It should be able to support a diverse range of species, and also to adapt to rising sea levels and give long-term protection to our coast.

Thriving

“It is cutting-edge science that will protect the area against the impact of climate change. So, we want residents to come along and discover more about the work that’s happening in their community and how it is nurturing a fantastic array of species to thrive on their doorstep.”

Alys Laver, ‎Site Manager at WWT Steart Marshes, added: “We see the scientific research as an important step in understanding the value of our working wetlands.

“Obtaining funding with these universities to publicise wetland value and reach a wider audience is a great opportunity for all of us.”

The new saltmarshes are constructed by breaching old sea-walls to let the tide in, using this opportunity to construct taller new walls from the excavated land, improving flood defence.

Species

In a man-made coastal wetland, the first few months sees mostly land species such as spiders and beetles present. As Steart evolves into a proper wetland, those species will be replaced by salt-resistant ones and offer a steady supply of food to the bigger wetland animals like otters and fish to become a bird watching dream.

Less than 0.7% of all the plant species in the UK can live on the tough, windy and salty environment of our coastal wetlands, making them among the rarest, most resolute, stubborn vegetation in the UK. They are also extremely valuable, providing nesting areas for rare birds, food for animals, carbon trapping and wave energy reduction.

The National Environment Research Council (NERC) has funded the saltmarsh team to host interactive community activities around the science of Steart, running until the end of March 2017.

The Steart Marshes are man-made from former farming lands. Since this is a new, cutting-edge science, scientists and consultants are fine-tuning best design practices. It is this research the scientists would like to share and discuss openly with the public.

Dates

Hydrodynamic models were used to ensure the site would flood correctly to create the right habitats; whist also minimising impacts of the projects in terms of flood risk and flow speeds in the neighbouring River Parrett.

Creek networks form spontaneously in natural saltmarshes. In Steart, however, the ground is high and very compact, so artificial creeks have been dug up to speed natural growth.

But when it comes to the actual shape of the wetland, with its ponds, mounts and channels, the design is more akin to building trenches and castles in a sandbox.

The scientists working on this project warmly invite residents to come and visit on the following dates and welcome all discussion of coastal processes and the future of the British coastline.
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Open day events:
7-8 Mar. 11:00 – 15:00
14-15 Mar. 11:00 – 15:00
24-25 Mar. 11:00 – 15:00

Location:
WWT Steart Marshes
Stert Drove, Stockland Bristol
Bridgwater TA5 2PU

Follow our updates on Twitter @scienceofsteart

Contact: scienceofsteart@gmail.com for more information

NOTES FOR EDITORS

For more information on the community open days, please contact: scienceofsteart@gmail.com or Dr Hannah
Mossman: H.Mossman@mmu.ac.uk

For more information on the WWT Steart Marshes, log on to: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/steart-marshes/ or contact Chris Morris, Press Office, Manchester Metropolitan University, 0161 247 2814, c.morris@mmu.ac.uk

Monday, 6th March 2017