Salt marsh returns to bomb site at South Efford reserve

South Efford Marsh Since 2011, the site has started to turn back into salt marsh

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Seventy years after an exploded German bomb helped create a temporary salt marsh in south Devon, the site is being restored to benefit wildlife again.

In 1943, a German WWII bomber dropped a bomb on the marsh, next to the Avon Estuary.

The explosion caused the site to flood with salt water at high tide.

Over the next decade the water transformed the site from a marshland grazed by livestock to salt marsh.

Local children also swam in the water-filled hole created by the exploded bomb, said Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT), which manages the site from the Environment Agency (EA).

In the mid 1950s the breach, which allowed the salt water to enter the marsh, was repaired and the site eventually returned to grazing marshland.

'Killed off'

In 2011, a restoration project began to transform the site back to salt marsh.

Two years on and there have already been "big changes at the site", DWT has said.

"It's a rare habitat, there are 32,000 hectares of salt marsh in England and 550 hectares within Devon, which is not a lot considering the amount of coastline," trust spokeswoman Jackie Gage said.

The habitat is protected by UK and European law and the project is part of a government initiative to create more intertidal habitat.

Why are salt marshes important?

Salt marsh (generic)
  • They have a rich supply of invertebrates such as worms, shrimps and shellfish which provide a rich food supply for many birds
  • An important nursery area for some fish, such as sea bass on the Avon Estuary, near the reserve
  • They are important winter feeding sites for many birds
  • Source: DWT

About 300 years ago, the site was a salt marsh, but a bank was constructed in the 18th Century to create a grazing marshland.

With the exception of the breach created by the bomb, the 14-hectare site has remained grazing marsh since.

Ms Gage said since the project began, iconic salt marsh plants such as glasswort, sea milkwort and salt marsh rush had returned to the site.

She added that new mud flats and creeks have been created and the salt marsh specialists have colonised and are spreading as the other grasses and rushes are killed off by the salt water.

Ms Gage said: "We are hoping that as more creeks and inlets develop there will be more areas of open water on the reserve that should then attract more wildfowl.

"Some of the shallow areas have been used by different duck species and flocks of up to 36 curlew [a wading bird] have been regularly seen."

Because the habitat was rare, she said it also made many of the species found there scarce.

A tidal gate is being used for the restoration, which is expected to take more than 10 years.

'Internationally important'

"The whole site is much wetter than previously - although, the water level is never deeper than 3.6ft (1.1m)," Ms Gage said.

"The level and timings of the inundation are carefully controlled by the EA."

The agency said the gate automatically closes to exclude higher tides and prevent any "increased risk of flooding to properties".

It added salt marsh was an "internationally important habitat".

In Cornwall, a similar restoration project is also taking place on the Camel Estuary.

About 10 hectares of tidal salt marsh is being created by two outfall pipes which are opened to allow water to flow in and out.

An EA spokesman said the work has the support of two local landowners who are allowing their fields to revert to salt marsh.

Tidal gate at South Efford Marsh A tidal gate is being used for the restoration, which is expected to take more than 10 years

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