a panoramic view of an estuary running through a saltmarsh

Carbon credits would enable restoration of UK saltmarshes say experts

Study backs introduction of UK Saltmarsh Code and carbon trading scheme

This is really excellent news for coastal saltmarshes and the many benefits that we, people, get from this ecosystem. We have known for a number of years that ‘blue carbon wetlands’, such as saltmarshes, can capture more carbon per unit area than tropical rain forests. We have, however, been slow to utilise this fact for boosting the rate of saltmarsh restoration and protection. With the new UK Saltmarsh Code, projects can meet some of their restoration costs through trading carbon credits on the voluntary market, to the tune of the amount of CO2 captured by their marsh. In 2012, the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor helped set up the world’s first ‘blue-carbon’ trading project with mangrove forests in Kenya. It is about time we get something equivalent in the UK and it has been a pleasure to be part of the ground breaking Saltmarsh Code project.
Dr Martin Skov,  who contributed to the research from the School of Ocean Sciences

UKCEH wetland scientist Annette Burden who led the study, which also involved the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB, the University of St Andrews,  SRUC, IUCN National Committee UK, Finance Earth and Jacobs said,

 “Saltmarshes can play an important role in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Restoring sites across the country would support progress towards our net zero targets and provide vital habitat for wildlife, including overwintering migratory birds and commercially important fish species such as Seabass.

“The introduction of a Saltmarsh Code would pave the way for private investment to support projects that have some public financing but would not otherwise happen.”

Varying factors such as ground conditions, design complexity and compensation to landowners mean the cost of restoration can be unpredictable, even after restoration work has begun, which is why public financing is considered essential to cover some of the costs.

The research team looked at how much of the cost of the planned restoration of Old Hall Marshes in Essex could be covered by private investment and reviewed whether carbon finance could have raised enough funds for the managed realignment of Steart Marshes in Somerset which was carried out in 2014.

The analysis found that with grants, the Steart Marshes scheme would have been able to generate market rate returns for equity investors, and therefore attract sufficient investment to be financially viable. The project team, backed by further Environment Agency/Defra funding, is now developing a pilot Saltmarsh Code for further testing, with the hope that a saltmarsh carbon credits system could be introduced in 2025.

The feasibility study and more information about the ongoing work on the Saltmarsh Code are available on the UKCEH website. 

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