THE erosion of salt marshes on Morecambe Bay is the focus of a state-of-the-art study involving Cumbrian researchers.

University of Cumbria academics are among a team working to discover why some salt marshes are more resilient than others when it comes to weathering storms and coping with rising sea levels.

Under particular scrutiny is a marsh at Warton on the northern side of Morecambe Bay, which is said to have retreated by 250 metres in five years. There is concern at the rate at which erosion of these essential ‘buffers’ is taking place.

Samples taken from the Lancashire coast are being analysed at one of the world's largest indoor flumes, an apparatus which enables the effects of storms to be replicated under laboratory conditions, at the Leibniz University in Hannover.

Dr Simon Carr, a geographer at the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside campus, is overseeing the tests.

“We need to learn why it is that some marshes are resilient yet others aren’t,” he said. “We’ll also be taking sediment samples from Tillingham on the Thames, which is more resilient, to try and identify what makes this the case.”

The project began earlier this year and was commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of a scheme known as RESIST(UK), which stands for ‘Response of Ecologically-mediated Shallow Intertidal Shores and their Transitions to extreme hydrodynamic forcing in UK settings'.

Dr Carr is working colleagues from Cambridge University, Queen Mary University, the Universities of Braunschweig and Hamburg in Germany, the University of Antwerp in Belgium and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ.)


State-of-the-art CT scans may also reveal in 3D detail more clues about the reasons for erosion.

“We’ve learned that managed realignment rather than hard engineered solutions aids coastal defences but not enough is known about salt marshes yet,” Dr Carr added. “Hopefully by identifying what elements are needed to encourage marshes to prosper will enable them to be fully incorporated into the planning and management of coastal protection schemes.”