What the salt brings 

by Sarah Farley

The salt brings him with the noontide 
Bearing gifts for the birds in her hair 
Who pause  
Their summer chatter of light 

In this place, the sea  
Is a beautiful temporary 
Wilded by wind as he 
Curls around her curves 

And she, she is anchored 
A land who misses sea 
A sea who kisses land 
Her life, written in these margins 

As skylarks sing, above 
He reaches her heart, below 
And the nesters in the purslane 
Begin their feast 

But soon, the cuckoo calls time 
Her lover drifts away 
So she waits for the moontide 
And what the salt brings 

Coastal saltmarsh: a drama in two acts 

If you could imagine yourself small enough, you might find yourself forested in a rich coastal landscape. Sea lavenders and purslane tower above you as the slender legs of avocets, oystercatchers and redshanks pick their way through the saltmarsh with precision. Here, where saltwater and freshwater meet, the wild and wonderful drama of life is played out in two acts each day — as the tide brings and then takes away.  

In this unassuming habitat, the incoming tide brings the silt that helps form the saltmarsh; the fish and crustaceans that nesting and migrating birds depend on; and the nutrients that have helped previously extinct plants, like the stinking hawksbeard1, to be reintroduced and to thrive. And the avocet — a bird that was extinct in the UK — has become a saltmarsh conservation success story2,3 thanks to the dedication of organisations like the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts

Saltmarshes act as a buffer against coastal erosion, and are important carbon sinks — meaning they absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they release. But for hundreds of years, these essential environmental benefits were ignored. Saltmarshes were drained so the land could be used for growing crops, grazing animals and giving people places to live and work. This resulted in the habitats and wildlife being squeezed out. It’s estimated that around half the world’s saltmarshes have been lost due to rising sea levels, agriculture and land development.4 And all of this contributes to climate change, which means coastal saltmarsh restoration and conservation is essential to tackling the climate crisis. 

There is an interconnectedness to saltmarsh. Each organism, whether invertebrate, bird or plant, has a purpose. And each fulfils its purpose with quiet dedication. What if we could be more like that? To understand our purpose on this earth. To feel at home and content in the place where the salt meets the marsh.  

In writing my centena about saltmarsh, I imagined a love song between the land and the sea. I think it’s time for us to fall back in love with our land. Because if we cannot learn how to love it, how can we ever fight to save it? 

  1. The stinking hawksbeard story, Sussex Wildlife Trusts   
  2. Avocet factsheet, The Wildlife Trusts
  3. The importance of RSPB Minsmere, Great British Life
  4. New study demonstrates benefits of undervalued saltmarsh, University of Exeter

Like many of the habitats in our project saltmarshes offer natural solutions to tackling climate change. Find out more on The Wildlife Trusts’ saltmarshes page.

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