Scientific challenge

Reviewing the evidence and vision for a joined-up approach to coastal habitat restoration

Habitat connectivity is how ecosystems affect each other through a conversation of geophysical, chemical and biological processes. For example, physical processes affected by connectivity may be the transfer of sediment or water which can in turn affect the flow of carbon and nutrients. Ecological processes may include the flow of species or genotypes, promoting resilience and evolutionary divergence, but also enabling activities such as daily migration for feeding and shelter at different life stages.

There is a strong body of research on habitat connectivity in terrestrial landscape restoration that has informed modelling platforms for conservation planning; however, this has not translated well to marine and freshwater ecosystems. Since the mid-1800s the UK has lost 92% of its seagrass, 95% of native oyster reef and 85% of saltmarsh. Targeted restoration of linked habitats may be key to rejuvenating the ecosystems we have destroyed and for future adjustment to challenges such as sea level rise, protection against storms and flooding, food security and pollution as human populations increase.

Following development of UK handbooks for Restoring Meadow, Marsh and Reef, UKCEH are collaborating with the University of Portsmouth and the University of Essex to investigate the extent of research into seascape habitat connectivity and seascape restoration on a global and UK-wide scale.


  1. Provide an overview of influences of connectivity on ecosystem processes and services.
  2. Outline historic and future opportunities for seascape restoration.
  3. Set an ambition for UK ecosystem scale approach to connected seascape restoration.


  • Rapid scoping review of examples of connectivity across temperate seascape habitats (saltmarsh, seagrass bed, intertidal mudflat, seaweed forest and oyster beds) through themes of carbon storage and flows, nutrient storage and flows, physical processes such as wave dampening and sediment trapping, and biodiversity.
  • Review of connectivity ecology application to coastal conservation and restoration efforts.
  • Integration of findings with UK and international policies, goals and agreements to outline how seascape restoration may for example help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, NetZero and Nitrate neutrality.
An infographic of co-located dune, saltmarsh, seagrass, mudflat, oyster bed and kelp forest illustrate interactions between habitats with added co-benefits to biodiversity function, carbon storage and flows, nutrient storage and protection against waves and storms.

On this project we are focusing on the interactions between co-located seagrass, saltmarsh, native oyster beds and mudflats. These include transfer of carbon, nutrients and organisms and can result in increased protection against waves and storms, storage of carbon in sediments, increased biodiversity and ecosystem function, and abatement of excess nutrients which could result in cleaner, clearer waters and more resilient coastal seascapes.


An ambition for seascape-scale coastal restoration in the UK

This initial scoping project aims to produce a report to the Blue Marine Foundation of the potential of seascape-scale coastal restoration in the UK and the stacked benefits that could be delivered.

Policy recommendations will be collated for submission as a POST-note which, combined with the report, will pave the way for both government and private investment in restoring the coastlines which are essential to life in the UK.


UKCEH people

Joanna Harley
Coastal ecologist
Coastal Ecosystem Scientist
Principal Investigator

Partners and funders


This project is funded by the Blue Marine Foundation.