Coastal Grazing Marsh

  1. Habitats explorer
  2. Coastal
  3. Coastal Grazing Marsh

Coastal and Floodplain Grazing Marsh - Lincs WT - D LavashCoastal and Floodplain Grazing Marsh - Lincs WT - D Lavash

What is it?

Grazing marsh is defined as pasture that is regularly flooded, or meadow with ditches that maintain water levels. Seasonally water-filled hollows and permanent ponds with emergent plants dot the landscape and standing water may be brackish or fresh. Almost all of these marshes are grazed and some are cut for hay. Strictly speaking, relatively few of the UK’s coastal grazing marshes could ever be described as truly natural; most have been reclaimed from the sea by drainage and embankments.

These flooded fields are rich in wildlife with invertebrates swarming in the ditches, amphibians making their homes in the ponds, otters and water voles slinking in and out of the deeper waters, and wading birds making the most of the muddy margins for feeding on worms. 

Where is it found?

The precise extent of UK coastal and floodplain grazing marsh is unknown. The best estimate is 300,000 hectares, of which two thirds are found in England. However, only a small proportion of this grassland (an estimated 10,000 hectares in the UK) is semi-natural habitat which supports a high diversity of native plant species, for example along the banks of the River Thames or in the Arun Valley in West Sussex.

Why is it important?

Often found in a matrix of other habitats such as fen and saltmarsh, grazing marshes can be distinguished by the wildlife they support. They are particularly important for the large number of breeding waders such as snipe, redshank, lapwing and curlew which they attract – species which have severely declined over recent decades. They also support internationally significant populations of wintering wildfowl, including Bewick and whooper swans.

Many invertebrate species, from common water beetles and spiders to the scarce lesser water measurer and southern damselfly, are associated with ditches or saturated ground. Around 500 species of plant have been recorded on grazing marsh including rare narrow-leaved water-dropwort, true fox sedge, cut grass and divided sedge. More commonly, the delicate white blooms of cuckooflower appear in the spring and are followed by the gaudy pinks of ragged robin and black knapweed, and blood-red, globular heads of great burnet. People also benefit from floodplain grazing marshes – they provide protection from floodwaters and, at the coast, reduce the energy of the tides, supporting our coastal defences.

Is it threatened?

During the last century, coastal grazing marshes have declined considerably in quantity and quality. Between the early 1930s and mid-1980s, 64% of grazing marsh was lost in the greater Thames, 48% in Romney Marsh (both in south-east England) and 37% in Broadland (East Anglia). Direct causes of habitat loss include insensitive flood defence works, deep drainage and ploughing for arable crops or fodder grasses. Other indirect changes have resulted from groundwater abstraction, aggregate extraction and development. 

How are The Wildlife Trusts helping?

Wildlife Trusts are working to prevent further loss of our coastal and floodplain grazing marsh by looking after areas as nature reserves. We use traditional management techniques, such as hay-cutting and grazing, to maintain them, and we are re-wetting and restoring areas that have become too dry, for example through drainage schemes
Across the UK The Wildlife Trusts also provide advice and guidance for landowners and farmers on wildlife-friendly practices in these areas. By ensuring that the land surrounding our reserves is looked after sympathetically for wildlife, we can create A Living Landscape: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country, which are good for both wildlife and people.

What can I do to help?


  • Take part in conservation measures on your land – ask your local Wildlife Trust for advice on grazing and management methods for grazing marshes.
  • Support the work of The Wildlife Trusts across the UK and become a member of your local Trust.
  • Volunteer with your local Wildlife Trust and help your local marshland wildlife; you could be involved in everything from scrub-cutting to wildflower surveying.
  • Support wildlife-friendly, traditionally managed farms by purchasing direct from local farms.