Mudflats and marshland, such as those we see round Wallasea Island, may look flat and boring to the uninitiated, but this threatened landscape is worth much more than many people realise. Current terms such as carbon sink, ecosystem services and coastal management are increasingly brought into environmental conversations as the global financial situation forces everything to be assessed in terms of monetary value - so perhaps our marsh is worth more than most of us realise. For centuries this coast has been a source of livelihood to man - providing food through fishing, oyster farming, wildfowling, and the grazing of animals such as sheep, pigs and horses. As agricultural practice changed, so did the land uses, but saltmarsh has maintained its traditions even though the enclosed land beside it has changed its ways. Fishing and Wildfowling may not be the only way to feed the family nowadays, but they still provide recreation to country sportsmen around the UK.
Our new nature reserve, as it develops, is widely expected to be a terrific place for birds to get crucial food and shelter, but it will also provide more nursery areas for a number of commercial fish species(e.g. bass). Shellfish nurseries could also be developed by local oyster farmers and samphire ( sea asparagus) will grow naturally and may be harvested. Livestock will graze on our wet grassland areas - who knows we may eventually have Wallasea Island saltmarsh lamb!Recreational areas, with increased demand from a rising population in need of exercise, have an often overlooked value, but must be provided. The health and mental well-being provided by contact with nature, for all ages, is now recognised in many medical circles. Our coastal footpaths, boardwalks and cycle tracks will be an important resource for many.
However, it is the unseen benefits of our marshes that may be the greatest. Climate change, and the resulting sea level rise, are likely to have significant impacts on our coastal defences. Saltmarsh provides an essential buffer zone. If we are able to keep hold of these buffer zones, they can offer us a cost-effective and sustainable option to combat wave and storm damage. In addition to their conservation and economic value, salt marshes have the capacity to store nutrients, pollutants, and large quantities of carbon which can contribute to ameliorating the effects of rising CO2, a major contributor to global warming. Until now, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the ocean and its habitats, despite the fact that they form a critical part of the carbon cycle and are one of the largest sinks of carbon on the planet. Estuaries are among the most intense carbon sinks in the biosphere and in saltmarsh systems, growth of sub-surface roots ensures direct burial of carbon.
So, why not take a new look at those flat marshes and that sticky mud? Mother Nature works in mysterious ways, and if we work in harmony with her the benefits to us can be great.