Mud Matters – Protecting Portsmouth’s ‘Squelchy Super Substance’

Steve Trewellha

Along with The RSPB, we are opposing a damaging development proposal at Tipner in Portsmouth, that will destroy an area vital for nature and valuable for the city’s long-term sustainability. The current plans rely heavily on reclaiming 27 hectares of protected intertidal mudflats, but does mud matter?

Luckily for me I got to talk with marine expert Tim Ferrero to find out more.

 

So Tim, The current proposals at Tipner involve concreting over a large amount of the protected shoreline, is there more at risk?

‘The proposed development at Tipner does not just affect the shore. From the shoreline, you can look out over 27 hectares of threatened intertidal mudflats. Now, to many people, mudflats do not seem that exciting or important. One can see a few birds, sometimes a lot of birds, but that seems to be it.

The truth is somewhat surprising. When we look out over an apparently flat and relatively featureless mudflat, we are actually seeing a biological powerhouse, a key habitat providing essential services for countless other species, supporting biodiversity and supporting us.’

 

What is it that makes the Tipner mudflats a ‘powerhouse’ for wildlife?

‘Mudflats, first and foremost, are engines of food production. As mudflats build up, they capture all manner of organic material from the water column which feeds this engine. From the bacteria, fungi and microscopic algae that teem within the mud and on its surface to the millions of small invertebrates which burrow into the mud or forage on its surface, mudflats are constantly generating biomass, or put simply, food. Some of these animals, for example clams and oysters, can even feed us!’

 

OK, so what kind of species rely on the Tipner mudflats for food?

‘The food produced by mudflats goes directly to feeding the many wading and other bird species which rely on them, either when they are overwintering and trying to build enough energy to complete their annual migrations in spring, or during the spring and summer breeding seasons when there are chicks to be fed. When the tide is in, the mudflats provide food for many other fish and invertebrate species that move in to forage across them.’

 

You mentioned fish, are they important too?

‘One species in particular, the sea bass, relies on the food and shelter provided by the Solent’s estuaries and mudflats as it spends up to seven years of its early life in our local, protected Bass Nursery Areas, before joining the adult population. They are a really important species for local fisheries.

The Solent’s sea bass are already under considerable pressure and stocks are dangerously low, but, properly managed, they could once again become highly important for both commercial and recreational fishermen, but this cannot happen if their supporting habitat is lost.’

 

Do the Tipner mudflats do more than support wildlife?

‘Mudflats don’t just produce food; they also have a vital role in storing carbon and processing excessive nutrients which can reduce water quality and lead to harmful blooms of algae. Mudflats are naturally accreting habitats: they build up and bury sediment and organic material that builds up when animals and plants die and settle from the water column. As the mudflats build up, they bury organic material deeper and deeper in the mud, where there is little or no oxygen, and it becomes preserved and locked away. This carbon sequestration function makes mudflats highly efficient carbon sinks, helping us in our battle against climate change.’

 

So there you have it! The Tipner mudflats are a climate change fighting, human waste water filtering, fish nursing, bird feeding powerhouse!

If you want to help us protect Tipner from the ravages of this destructive proposal then sign the petition below to tell Portsmouth City Council, #dontgothere.

Save wildlife from super-peninsula plans