Caught between the dyke and deep blue sea.

Standing proud waiting for yet another armada. Our heroes are facing wave after wave of poisonous and corrosive floods set to destroy their way of life. Our heroes resemble a rag-tag collection of individuals straight from a Hollywood war film. There is the short stocky one, the competitive one, the eye-candy and the big guy hitting every demographic just like PR driven casting. Our heroes face almost impossible odds taking guard day and night to defend us all, but they are besieged, can they hold out? The battlefield is wet, humid, and for our heroes, the ground itself contains the remains of their ancestors. In this “against all odds story” our heroes take the form of the rarest, most resolute, stubborn vegetation in the UK and make up an ecosystem known as a saltmarsh.

“silly family wedding you didn’t want to attend”

A saltmarsh is a muddy place, the sort of mud that builds until your feet weigh more than a small child clinging to your leg at some silly family wedding you didn’t want to attend. One final cliché is possibly true about these heroic plants. Like any battle from the silver screen an intervention from a friendly face is desperately needed. Just like a last minute cavalry charge from Gandalf with the Riders of Rohan in Lord of the Rings, it is the British public who have the chance to jump in to save our patriotic, heroic, coastal protectors preserving our natural coastline.

Defence is the best form of offence

Saltmarshes provide the first line of defence in front of our seawalls. Scientists from Manchester Metropolitan University looked at dozens of marshes both artificial and natural around the British coast finding a big difference in their structure. Artificial saltmarshes have been found to be too flat risking that front line protection given to our seawalls, researchers have found.

Sea levels are rising

The grasses of marshes help stop wave energy damaging walls that cost millions to both build and maintain. To give you an idea of figures, In Netherlands protection of the sea is becoming a serious concern and a 1m increase in sea wall height costs approximately £1,000,000 per km to construct and an additional £100,000 per year to maintain.

Getting value for money

These flat artificial saltmarshes contain less of these important wave protecting plants which only places further risk on flood defences in the face of the ever growing threat of sea level rise.

“Treacherous to navigate but home to birds and fish”

One of the main differences between natural and artificial marshes is that natural marsh crunch underfoot with diverse plants. Walk around and through natural marshes are interrupted by bumps, humps and winding streams, treacherous to navigate but home to birds and fish.  The researchers suggest that not only would different designs improve the protection but also encourage the more natural looking marsh full of biodiversity, nesting and nurseries for birds and fish.

Make a change

One way of changing the surfaces of these artificial marshes is through building a better network for water to move around the marsh. The streams on marshes act like corridors and staircases. A simple network is much like trying to leave a football stadium via one footpath and turnstile, the people (or water) remains locked in this flat system too long. The result of this can be reduced diversity of plants and as a result make services a health saltmarsh is capable of delivering to the public.

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