Case Study

Breathing new life into Dart Estuary saltmarshes in South Devon


This project aimed to restore, conserve and enhance the health of the Dart Estuary’s saltmarshes to their peak environmental and ecosystem services potential; in particular their biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

The ongoing project, involving a local partnership of organisations, is surveying the condition of individual saltmarshes to identify the necessary conservation management prescriptions.

This project is also working with local communities and activity providers to raise a greater awareness of the wider values, interests and sensitivities of saltmarshes; and exploring how local communities might be actively involved and engaged in their conservation and care, and that of other estuarine ecosystems.

Most previous saltmarsh conservation projects have been of larger South-East England saltmarshes rather than our South-West ria-estuary type narrow fringe saltmarshes. Lessons learnt from this project shall be used to roll its reach across the Dart’s neighbouring estuaries.

Courtesy of South Devon National Landscape.

What's being done

We have a long and reasonable working knowledge of the saltmarshes (incl. hereafter tidal reedbeds) within the South Devon National Landscape seascape but their ability to punch way above their frequently small and fragmented nature in the SW, in terms of their blue-carbon storage, has massively pushed them up our conservation agenda.

To build on our local knowledge, we started with a desk survey logging all known, suspected and potential saltmarshes across our area using commonly available online, paper and historic maps, and satellite imagery.

With the help of the Dart Habour Authority, we used various methods to identify existing or potential future saltmarsh sites.

At this same time we explored and established a partnership of organisations and agencies to start restoring the saltmarshes of the Dart Estuary.

We supported the local Bioregional Learning Centre as the project’s figurehead and lead; funding that we have secured through the first two project phases:

  • The first phase explored how we might encourage an active and positive interest, engagement and awareness of the local community. A particular challenge given that the upper foreshore community almost dies away to nothing in the winter and often thrives on a super soft shore that is so easily disturbed by just a few visits. We hosted an evening of saltmarsh related awareness illustrated talks, a guided saltmarsh walk, a guided boat trip and even a very successful ‘live from a saltmarsh’ online event. The BLC produced an alternative saltmarsh short film.
  • Our ongoing second phase has identified those saltmarshes that are the priority for surveying by our Devon Biological Records Centre, and the full permission of the relevant land and foreshore owners secured. The survey reports will used by a commissioned consultancy to consider the relevant conservation management options and draw up the appropriate prescriptions to restore, enhance and/or conserve for each saltmarsh – the emphasis being on the saltmarsh’s resilience, carbon and biodiversity potential.

At the time of writing, phase three is yet to be detailed but will likely involve our partnership investigating the most appropriate funding for the prescriptive works, together with what and how the local community might be involved and a longer term local work force of appropriately skilled persons.

The resultant options will be presented to the relevant landowners for their deliberation and progression, together with any localised offers.

Later or concurrent phases will roll this whole process across our other four estuaries within our National Landscape and monitor the improved saltmarshes for our continued learning and refinements of our wider saltmarsh conservation management community.

We will also investigate what saltmarsh related resources may be available for formal and informal education purposes and propose to fill any gaps.

We see the awareness and engagement of the wider local community as an key part of our saltmarsh restoration project.


Phase 1 produced ‘Living Dart: The Saltmarsh Project’.

Using creative means to bring the Dart Estuary's saltmarshes to life through graphic design, copywriting, photography, sound recording and filmmaking, the partnership’s work centered on convening, media outreach and delivering three public events which successfully reached 660+ individuals, local community groups, landowners, and environmental NGOs with local saltmarsh expertise to both learn more about saltmarshes and contribute to the planning of the project.

Phase 1 project - exposure and increased awareness of saltmarsh:

  • Evening of expert talks - 60 people
  • Joining a local Rivers’ Assembly initiative bring together 150 project, group and community leaders
  • Online saltmarsh meeting - 8 people
  • Attendance and social media - 660+ (220 participants sharing with 3 friends each)
  • Bioregional Learning Centre (BLC) newsletter - 244, opened by 159
  • 84 responses to a BLC poll that showed a willingness to participate in different ways; asked, “Which activities could you currently see yourself doing?” The top five responses were:
    • 1. Mention saltmarsh next time I meet a friend for coffee (80%)
    • 2. Encounter interpretive signs as I walk or hike (78.5%)
    • 3. Sign and share the River Dart Charter (73.8%)
    • 4. Listen to subject-specific podcasts (72.5%)
    • 5. Take part in a one-off, guided saltmarsh meeting (71.2%)
    • The two runners up were ‘Go on a guided boat or 12-seater canoe tour, ticketed’ (70.9%) and ‘Sign a petition, e.g. message to UN Water Conference (68%)’.


The key success of our project, so far has been the partnership, its bringing together of appropriate specialist expertise and creativity as well as the working together as a partnership.

Our partnership includes several members of our local South Devon Catchments partnership that includes the local EA Catchments Coordinator, Dart Harbour Authority, Bioregional Learning Centre, Devon Wildlife Trust and their Biological Records Centre, and ourselves the South Devon National Landscape.

We follow the general guidance of the EA’s Saltmarsh Restoration Guide but adapted for our smaller foreshore fringe saltmarshes so typical of the SW.

We consider it imperative to include the local communities, as well as the actual landowners, so that these most often overlooked and undervalued saltmarsh ecosystems might be better understood and actively respected – possibly where appropriate (and still to be enacted) hands-on engaged in their restoration and conservation.

We shall use our own learning from this initial Dart Estuary project area to inform and roll over similar projects for each of our local estuaries and for others beyond.

"Well done all involved – really good to get this sort of messaging out about the value of saltmarshes."

Ed Parr Ferris, Conservation Manager, Devon Wildlife Trust (project partner)