Wadden Sea 2013: Celebrating 40 years of salt marshes research

This year’s Wadden Sea Day was dedicated to the fascinating topic of salt marshes. Over 80 scientists, managers, policy makers and other Wadden Sea stakeholders participated in the conference to discuss challenges and prospects for the future of this indispensable part of the Wadden Sea ecosystem. The conference was aimed to shed light on the current challenges of this sensitive habitat and was focused on two major themes: Biodiversity and Management and Restoration.

“Salt marshes research is a success story”, says Peter Südbeck, the Head of the Wadden Sea National Park Administration in Lower Saxony, - “we have managed to provide the highest protection status to this large area, and this is in the middle of Europe.” 

The salt marshes of the Wadden Sea, that constitute 20% of the total European salt marshes area, are considered to be a well-researched habitat. For over 40 years of research in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, a comprehensive body of knowledge has been collected, which contributed greatly to the salt marshes conservation. In this context, the trilateral Salt Marsh and Dunes Expert Group is aiming for a harmonized monitoring and management approach within the three Wadden Sea countries.

The experts recommend  to give priority to the conservation  and restoration of salt marshes, wherever this is attainable, guided by the Targets of the trilateral Wadden Sea Plan, which states that the present area of salt marshes shall not be reduced, and that  the area with natural dynamics shall be extended where possible. Equally important is the improvement of natural morphology and dynamics, including natural drainage for the salt marshes on mainland, provided the current salt marshes area would not be reduced. Biodiversity on the global scale is reliant on the Wadden Sea, and the biodiversity in the Wadden Sea depends largely on the salt marshes, which once again was underlined by the presentations.

Over the last decades the so-called ageing of salt marshes has been regarded as one of the main problems, associated with a decrease in species diversity. Various projects on the salt marshes re-naturation, e.g. the opening of summer dikes, identified measurable success in restoring of natural dynamic processes.   

“Salt marshes, apart from being an ecosystem of an extraordinary beauty, are also an integral part of the Wadden Sea World Heritage and we have global responsibility to preserve it for generations to come, - concludes Jens Enemark, the Head of the Wadden Sea secretariat.

The Conference was jointly organised by the Lower Saxony National Park Administration and the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat in Wilhelmshaven.

The Wadden Sea Day programme can be downloaded here.

The sessions of the conference focused on

1. Biodiversity

Overview on Wadden Sea salt marshes as a habitat for a diverse and specialized flora and fauna

Jan Bakker (Univ. of Groningen)
What did we learn during 40 years of research on salt marshes?

Kees Koffijberg (Sovon)
Living on the edge: breeding birds on Wadden Sea salt marshes

Angus Garbutt (Natural Environment Research Council, Bangor, Wales)
Salt Marshes - Ecosystem services

2. Management and Restoration

New developments around short and long-term restoration projects aiming for natural salt marsh development

Martin Stock (National Park Administration, Tönning)
Long-term vegetation development in salt marshes of Schleswig-Holstein

Stefanie Nolte (Univ Groningen)
Grazing as a nature-management tool on mainland salt marshes - Results of the Noord-Friesland grazing experiment

Antonia Wanner (Univ. Hamburg)
Grazing effects on vegetation, breeding birds, silica and sediments in salt marshes: Results of the BASSIA-project

Holger Freund (Univ. of Oldenburg)
Effects of de-embankment on the saltmarsh in the Langeoog Sommerpolder

Peter Esselink (PUCCIMAR, Ecological Research and Consultancy)
From Polder to Salt Marsh: Evaluation of the Way Back. Ten years of salt-marsh restoration in Noarderleech, Netherlands