What the salt brings
by Sarah Farley
The salt brings him with the noontide
Bearing gifts for the birds in her hair
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?
- The stinking hawksbeard story, Sussex Wildlife Trusts
- Avocet factsheet, The Wildlife Trusts
- The importance of RSPB Minsmere, Great British Life
- New study demonstrates benefits of undervalued saltmarsh, University of Exeter