Bio-diversity of Salinas and Salt Marshes
The saltmarsh landscape is wild and flat and characterised by a specialised community of salt-loving plants known as halophytes. Amongst these is ‘glasswort’ or ‘marsh samphire’ (Salicornia) that may be found at lower tidal levels and in particularly muddy regions. This plant is used for culinary purposes as a ‘poor-mans-asparagus’, although it is actually quite a delicacy and on the continent is now being cultivated in some salinas as part of market diversification.
Other plants include sea lavender and the cord grass Spartina anglica, a tall and vigorous plant that originated as a result of a genetic mutation from an infertile hybrid between the native European Spartina and an American Spartina species.
The vegetation gives some shelter to migratory water birds such as curlew and redshank, which feed on small snails known as Hydrobia, ragworms and crustacea within the mud and pools between the plants.
The Environment of Lymington Salina, Hampshire
At Lymington, many of the evaporating basins of former salterns have now been re-landscaped to form larger ‘brackish lagoons’, which are a highly specialised habitat and are rare both in Atlantic Europe and in the UK.
These sheltered aquatic habitats are colonised by an assemblage of invertebrate species that are particularly tolerant of a wide range of salinity that is distinct from estuarine and other marine ecosystems. Species include the lagoon cockle (Cerastoderma glaucum), ragworms and various crustaceans such as the lagoon sand shrimp (Gammarus insensibilis). The spectacular starlet sea anemone (Nematostella vectensis) is found at very high densities within some of the lagoons. Although species diversity is low, high densities and biomass of invertebrates provide important prey for over-wintering migratory birds, such as Black-tailed Godwits and breeding birds such as Terns and now Avocets.
The brine tanks and possibly the evaporating basins of the Lymington salterns were once a home for the brine shrimp or ‘sea monkey’ (Artemia salina) which is characteristic of the fauna of evaporating basins and crystallisation ponds of active salinas in southern Europe.
The first brine shrimps brought to the attention of the scientific community were specimens from Lymington, first drawn by Schosser in 1756 and classified by the great taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.