Seagrass and spiny starfish North Wales Seagrass and spiny starfish North Wales

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Report published: Restoring marine and coastal habitats in Wales

Research undertaken by ABPmer, to identify where marine habitat restoration could occur in Wales, has been published

There is an increasing focus on restoration of marine species and habitats as an approach to reversing the global decline in biodiversity. The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which began in 2021, is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems around the world, for the benefit of people and nature.

A new legislative framework in Wales put in place by the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 introduced Welsh Government’s commitment to the sustainable management of natural resources and a drive to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity.

As part of a wider programme of measures, ABPmer was asked to consider where restoration of marine and coastal habitats and species might occur in Welsh waters and assess the associated benefits.

Assessing restoration options

Restoration, in the context of this project, included both the re-establishment of natural processes, ecosystem functionality and biodiversity in degraded habitats and re-creating habitat where it has been lost. 

Research focussed on six habitats of principal biodiversity importance in Wales:

  • Intertidal mudflats
  • Coastal saltmarshes
  • Seagrass beds
  • Horse mussel beds
  • Honeycomb worm reefs
  • Native oyster habitat

To identify opportunities for marine restoration, ABPmer specialists took account of the physical requirements for the key habitats and collated existing information on identified opportunities, working with relevant stakeholders.

A key output was digital maps (data layers) of where such restoration could take place. To create the layers, we drew on our experience developing similar habitat creation and restoration datalayers for England on behalf of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

Digital mapping resulting from this research included:

  • A layer indicating areas in the floodplain that may be suitable for the creation of mudflat and saltmarsh through managed realignment
  • Layers highlighting areas where the right conditions may exist for seagrass, native oyster habitat and horse mussel bed restoration

Understanding the benefits provided by marine habitats

To help determine prioritisation and develop a rationale for taking forward restoration projects, an ecosystem services review was undertaken. It found that the benefits of the six principal habitats are substantial, and include:

  • Habitat provision and biodiversity enhancement
  • Increased fish populations
  • Water quality improvement and denitrification
  • Carbon sequestration and storage (‘blue carbon’ in the context of marine habitats)
  • Natural hazard regulation and increased resilience

The full range of benefits is summarised in the following graphic:

Ecosystem service benefits of restored marine and coastal habitats

Restoring lost and degraded habitats in Wales can help the Welsh Government meet legislative duties and objectives, and harness multiple benefits for the Welsh people and beyond.

The layers created for this project constitute a valuable starting point for initiating more marine habitat restoration projects in Wales. Together with the recently published technical report, they will facilitate the development of strategic, integrated, restoration plans which build on the four attributes of ecosystem resilience: diversity, extent, condition and connectivity.

Download the full report at the NRW website

ABPmer is a recognised leader in marine and coastal habitat creation, restoration and protection. We work with clients from initial conception through planning and consent to scheme implementation.

Main photo by Andrew Pearson