Question: Does the vegetation of restored salt marshes increasingly resemble natural reference communities over time?
Location: The Essex estuaries, southeast England.
Methods: Abandoned reclamations, where coastal defences had been breached in storm events, and current salt marsh recreation schemes were surveyed giving a chronosequence of salt marsh regeneration from 2 to 107 years. The presence, abundance and height of plant species were recorded and comparisons were made with adjacent reference salt marsh communities at equivalent elevations.
Results: Of the 18 paired sites surveyed, 13 regenerated marshes had fewer species than their adjacent reference marsh, three had an equal number and two had more. The plant communities of only two de-embankment sites matched that of the reference community. 0–50 year old sites and 51–100 year old sites had fewer species per quadrat than the 101 year sites and the reference salt marshes. There was a weak relationship between differences in species richness for regenerated and reference marshes and the time since sites were first re-exposed to tidal inundation. Cover values for the invasive and recently evolved Spartina anglica were greater within regenerated than reference marshes.
Conclusions: Salt marsh plants will colonise formerly reclaimed land relatively quickly on resumption of tidal flooding. However, even after 100 years regenerated salt marshes differ in species richness, composition and structure from reference communities.