Citizen Scientists sought to investigate our saltmarshes

We are an island nation, and yet we know surprisingly little about parts of our coastline.

An appeal to ‘citizen scientists’ hopes to put this right by encouraging us to collect information about our salt marshes to fill in the gaps.

With the aid of The Saltmarsh App, a UK-wide group of marine scientists are asking interested individuals and groups to investigate the salt marshes which surround our coast.

Once they’ve downloaded the free, mobile app, individuals can either use the guide to identify the unique plants and wildlife found on salt marshes or they can carry out an interactive plant and soil survey. 

The survey will estimate the stored carbon in the saltmarsh soil and show how by preventing carbon from becoming the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide their marsh is helping limit climate change.

We know a great deal about land environments and have a detailed knowledge of the distribution of most soil types within the UK, with the exception of salt marshes. Every marsh survey uploaded will help the scientists at Bangor University learn more about UK saltmarsh soils and how they are helping fight climate change.

Salt marshes are grassland fields that fringe our coastline. They are washed by the tides and are criss-crossed by creeks. They are rich in wildlife and help protect our coastlines against storms and floods. Salt marshes are a great place for a walk, a run and a range of other outdoor activities.

The Saltmarsh App was developed by the University of St Andrews, Bangor University and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. The App will encourage people to visit salt marshes and gain more enjoyment from their visit, by providing a portable visual reference for the plants and animals found there. For the ‘citizen scientist’, the app also guides the user through some simple plant community and soil identification steps, which will be fed back to the scientists.

Dr Martin Skov of Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, who is leading part of the project, explains;

“We hope people will take advantage of the app to go and investigate a salt marsh the next time they visit the coastline, they can be the most dramatic and atmospheric places at any time of year. By feeding back some simple information to us, we can build a better picture of what kinds of soils we have in our salt marshes and what type of plants and animals they support. This helps us build a better picture of how much carbon is stored or ‘cycled’ in these areas.

“Salt marshes also play an increasingly important role in protecting land from flooding during storm surges, so it’s important that we build a better database of information about the types of habitats found here so that we can manage these vital environments for the future.” said Prof. David Paterson of University of St Andrews.

The app and citizen science elements provide a useful resource for anyone wanting to get involved in environmental biology or outdoor activities and will be useful to conservation groups, high schools, Scout and Guide leaders, groups completing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and families, groups and individuals working towards their John Muir Award. The John Muir Award is the main engagement initiative of the John Muir Trust, an environmental award scheme focused on wild places.  It supports people to connect with, enjoy and care for nature, landscape and the natural environment.  

Phil Stubbington, John Muir Award England & Wales Manager welcomed the app saying:  

“The Saltmarsh app provides a fantastic platform to connect with an important, exciting and often overlooked coastal environment. The app affords an opportunity to connect, engage and inspire people of all ages with salt marshes on their doorstep or further afield, while collecting crucial data in a fun and engaging way and giving something back to wild places.  I look forward to seeing where this new and exciting approach will take saltmarsh research in England and Wales.”

Editors: The app is available from usual app online app stores from 1 July 2016. Search for Saltmarsh App

The app will be maintained for up to 5 years during which, the scientists will be collating the information collected for their scientific use.

The Saltmarsh App was created as part of Coastal Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (CBESS): NE/J015644/1. The project was funded with support from the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS) programme. BESS is a six-year programme (2011-2017) funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the UK’s Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) programme.

CBESS is a research consortium made up of universities, non-government organisations and statutory bodies: University of St Andrews, Bangor University, British Trust for Ornithology, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Durham University, University of Essex, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Queen’s University Belfast, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Natural Heritage and University of Southampton.

For more information on CBESS please visit: http://synergy.st-andrews.ac.uk/cbess/

Apple App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-saltmarsh-app/id1111609923?ls=1&mt=8 

Android App:  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=si.opacelica.saltmarshes

Publication date: 1 July 2016