'Mud: Mucky, marvellous - but misunderstood'

Curlew feeding_David White

A curlew enjoying wetlands - Credit: David White

At this time of year, it is common to find a moan or two in my inbox about mud. 

It is annoying to slip along a wet section of footpath or find soil tracked onto roads by agricultural vehicles. Even in places where it should be, the brown stuff is undervalued. Soil and mud are much more than inconvenient dirt. So, does mud need a rebrand?

The Lower Otter Restoration Project is delivering a natural solution to help us adapt to climate change. 

The historic earth embankment will be breached next year. Seawater will silently cover the valley floor for the first time in 200 years but as the tide retreats it will leave mud, lots of mud, enough mud to cover 156 football fields. This change is one that should be welcomed.

Where mud is deposited at the mouth of rivers the layers form mudflats. Other local rivers like the Exe have extensive coastal systems including mud flats. 

In parts of the lower Otter valley where vegetation has been removed to allow the water to drain effectively, the open views already allow a glimpse of the changes ahead and migrant birds are already making the most of the new habitats. 

When it is estuary once more, over time, salt tolerant plants will colonise the mud helping it developing into areas of both mudflats and saltmarsh.

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Saltmarshes provide habitats of high biodiversity value, deliver coastal protection from sea level rise and storms and lock-up valuable carbon. 

Wading birds and the juvenile stages of many marine fish species exploit the food and protection provided by the networks of muddy creeks. 

Wetlands cover just 5-8% of the world’s surface but lock up 20-30% of the world’s carbon. Carbon is captured both by growing plants and in the sediments beneath. A single hectare of saltmarsh can capture up to two tonnes of carbon a year, locking it away for centuries.

With all this happening right under our feet, it is definitely time to recognise all these benefits and start to champion marvellous mud!