Scottish saltmarsh, sea-level rise, and the potential for managed realignment to deliver blue carbon gains

William Austin*, Craig Smeaton, Alex Houston, Thorsten Balke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Vegetated coastlines, including seagrass, mangroves, and salt marshes, are valued for their capacity to sequester and store large amounts of organic carbon in their soils. The importance of ‘blue carbon’ habitats in mitigating against climate change is now widely recognised, especially given that blue carbon accumulation rates are expected to increase in response to sea-level rise, temperature increase, and precipitation change. However, coastal habitats are degrading globally, raising fears that blue carbon habitats could largely disappear by the end of this century unless significant protection and restoration efforts are enacted. The widespread conversion of Scotland’s saltmarshes to agricultural and development land, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, together with more recent acceleration of sea-level rise, places this important coastal habitat under extreme pressures. Reversing these trends is important. Scotland’s saltmarshes are currently estimated to cover an area of 58.4 km2, which represents around 13% of the UK total. Measuring the amount of stored carbon accurately is crucial for understanding the cost of habitat loss, and for justifying financial investment in protecting and enhancing the carbon storage capacity of coastal habitats The Scottish Government has recognised their importance in the Climate Change Plan Update, and the inclusion of saltmarsh in the national greenhouse gas inventory is being progressed by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), following recent recommendations to do so by the UK Climate Change Committee. Such inclusion would allow saltmarsh restoration to contribute to meeting our emissions reduction targets.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherClimate XChange
Number of pages77
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022


  • saltmarsh
  • carbon
  • sea level
  • wetland
  • coastal
  • Scotland
  • Restoration
  • realignment
  • soil
  • blue carbon


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