Thursday, September 20, 2012

Man-made English saltmarshes 'failing to meet European plant standards'

Jessica Aldred in the Guardian (UK): Man-made English salt marshes are failing to meet European conservation regulations that stipulate they should be as rich in plant life as natural wetlands, a new study warned on Thursday.

Salt marshes are coastal wetlands that are flooded and drained by salt water brought in by the tides, and are found all around the coastline of Great Britain. They are important ecosystems that provide essential food, refuge or habitat for fish, invertebrates and birds. The flowering plants that live there are very specialised, as only a few species can tolerate the salty conditions.

Scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) compared the vegetation of 18 marshes created as part of man-made changes to the coastline since 1991, and 17 marshes created accidentally by storm surges since 1881, with 34 natural salt marsh sites in the UK.

They found that the artificially created salt marshes suffered significantly reduced biodiversity. Characteristic perennial plants such as sea lavender (Limonium vulgare), sea thrift (Armeria maritima), sea arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) and sea plantain (Plantago maritima) were very poorly represented, while shrubs such as sea purslane (Atriplex portulacoides) were becoming dominant..

Under the EU habitats directive, new salt marsh must be created every time natural salt marsh is lost to coastal development or erosion caused by sea-level rise. New marshes must display "equivalent biological characteristics" to their natural counterparts....

Bog flora at Bannow, shot by Pam Brophy, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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