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Keywords:

  • Atriplex portulacoides;
  • coastal management;
  • Essex;
  • managed retreat;
  • restoration;
  • salt marsh;
  • sedimentology

Abstract

Intertidal restoration through realignment of flood defenses has become an important component of the U.K. coastal and estuarine management strategy. Although experimentation with recent deliberate breaches is in progress, the long-term prognosis for salt marsh restoration can be investigated at a number of sites around Essex, southeast England where salt marshes have been reactivated (unmanaged restoration) by storm events over past centuries. These historically reactivated marshes possess higher creek densities than their natural marsh counterparts. Both geomorphology and sedimentology determine the hydrology of natural and restored salt marshes. Elevation relative to the tidal frame is known to be the primary determinant of vegetation colonization and succession. Yet vegetation surveys and geotechnical analysis at a natural marsh, where areas with good drainage exist in close proximity to areas of locally hindered drainage at the same elevation, revealed a significant inverse relationship between water saturation in the root zone and the abundance of Atriplex portulacoides, normally the physiognomic dominant on upper salt marsh in the region. Elsewhere in Essex natural and restored marshes are typified by very high sediment water contents, and this is reflected in low abundance of A. portulacoides. After a century of reestablishment no significant difference could be discerned between the vegetation composition of the storm-reactivated marshes and their natural marsh counterparts. We conclude that vegetation composition may be restored within a century of dike breaching, but this vegetation does not provide a reliable indicator of ecological functions related to creek structure.