Exploring saltmarshes along the Dart Estuary, sharing river knowledge, finding paths to understanding and action for communities of interest.
How can we help to protect this vital ecosystem and carbon store?
You might be surprised to hear that outside the Tropics saltmarshes bury carbon at a greater rate and store more carbon per unit area below ground than their forest counterparts on land. They absorb tidal and wave energy and help prevent flooding. They regulate water quality by absorbing excess phosphates and nitrates in river water as well as salt from the incoming tides. They are important places for wading birds to breed, spend the winter and stop off during migration.
Muddy, grey and brown, the Dart’s pockets of saltmarsh often go unnoticed. Best seen from a kayak, these fragile ecosystems found along the more sheltered sides of the estuary are not easy to visit, or care for.
If the best approach for saltmarsh is ‘do not disturb’, what can we, as residents and visitors, do?
During this past autumn the Living Dart team has been conducting botanical surveys of 5 sites (clusters of 13 saltmarsh areas) and gathering drone imagery and data. Six short films, shared over the winter, will explain the collaborative nature of this project and spotlight work in progress. In March 2024 we will host an event, open to all, that aims to share prescriptions; the range of conservation efforts needed to enhance these saltmarsh constellations. Please get in touch if you are part of a local group interested in learning more.
Thank you to the 84 Dart lovers who took our poll!
In order to demonstrate support in some way for the Dart Estuary’s saltmarshes, we asked
“Which activities could you currently see yourself doing?”
The top five responses were:
1. Mention saltmarsh next time I meet a friend for coffee (80%)
2. Encounter interpretive signs as I walk or hike (78.5%)
3. Sign and share the Dart Charter (73.8%)
4. Listen to subject-specific podcasts (72.5%)
5. Take part in a one-off, guided saltmarsh meeting (71.2%)
The two runners up were ‘Go on a guided boat or 12-seater canoe tour, ticketed (70.9%)’
and ‘Sign a petition, e.g. message to UN Water Conference (68%)’.
This feedback will inform the kinds of activities that The Saltmarsh Project could support, organize or produce.
Download the report to see all the choices and results.
Living Dart: The Saltmarsh Project
Everything you always wanted to know about the Dart saltmarshes. But never had an expert to ask… til now!
With Nigel Mortimer, Dr Sarah Collins and Mike Langman
Our three saltmarsh experts shared their passion as well as their knowledge at this sold-out event where Dart lovers had the opportunity to learn about birds, plants and mud life. We invited ideas on how communities could get involved and heard from Julian Carnell of The Shapham Trust about their hay meadow and saltmarsh restoration project. Hal Gillmore of Canoe Adventures suggested training for their guides and Sarah Collins shared the useful research work undertaken by her students at Plymouth University.
Saltmarsh: The Dart Estuary’s Carbon Solution
See how The Saltmarsh Project fits in to a mosaic of water and climate challenges in South Devon.
@ Sustainable South Hams’ Rivers Assembly
The team joined dozens of other project leaders and over 160 river lovers in a day of information exchange where people in the South Hams were learning river knowledge from each other. The event demonstrated the power of grassroots organizing, a catchment-based approach and showed how established non-profits, institutions and academia are reaching out into the community space. Saltmarsh was highlighted as an amazing and underappreciated carbon store, and BLC’s River Dart Charter recognized as a significant tool for change.
Dart Saltmarshes: What can we do to protect them?
Bring your lunch. Let’s talk about it.
Estuaries officer Nigel Mortimer joined us live from the Kingsbridge/Salcombe mudflats to show us saltmarsh plant life up close. We then unpacked the approach we have taken–an open invitation to shape the project in its early stages through a co-design process, and welcomed input from those joining us online. For most environmental causes there are few clearly laid out paths to action for residents and citizens to take. Participants in this project have generated numerous ideas. The next phase will see a shortlist laid out as pathways that align with restoration recommendations.
We can learn from this marginal place, where life is resilient and adaptable.
All along the river there is concern about pollution, with citizens organising to take care of the water and the wildlife that depends on it. Amongst Devon rivers the Dart is also at high risk from the impact that the stress of climate change will have on freshwater supply and the river ecosystem as a whole. Every part of a river, like every part of our body, has a role to play in keeping us healthy. And as with the human body, what we put into it finds its way downstream, washes up on shore and then out to the sea.
The loss and damage to saltmarshes over centuries means that they are not able to function at any meaningful level or scale. Development and land claim, littering, overgrazing, boat wake & storage, trampling and camping all take their toll and now they have sea level rise to contend with too. Where space allows, saltmarshes will migrate up the shore with sea level rise but the nature and development of our ria type estuaries, with their steep sides, all too often halts this migration.
Living Dart: The Saltmarsh Project is now in the second phase of work, funded by the Environment Agency. Key features are that the project planning is local, that it involves local communities and landowners from the get-go, and that our saltmarsh ecosystems will be restored to health. As a first phase in reviving and restoring saltmarshes on the Dart the partner project is helping to play our part in the 30×30 goal that came out of the UN Biodiversity CoP15 last December–30% of our planet protected for nature by 2030.
We work in and at the intersection of economy, ecology, learning, arts and culture and the gaps in between.