World Wetlands Day is celebrated all over the globe this month – but why are these damp pieces of land so important?
Why is a day dedicated to the world’s wetlands?
Vast expanses of saturated land, marshes and swamps, the UK’s wetlands are home to around 10% of our native wildlife, catering for everything from wading curlew to swooping dragonflies. What’s more, the distinct ecosystem also has an important role in regulating our environments, naturally limiting flooding and storing carbon from our atmosphere. It’s troubling then that there has been a decrease of around 90% of our natural wetlands since the Industrial Revolution, thanks to extensive urbanisation and repurposed farmland. “The whole of the UK landscape is incredibly modified,” Mark Simpson from Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) explains. “We always think of towns and cities and lots of people packed into the UK, but every bit of farmland is also modified from its natural state.”
And we’re really starting to see the impact of our depleted wetlands, with each year the risk of powerful floods increasing. “There isn’t the natural infrastructure to slow down the flow of water and we do get big deluges,” Mark says. This in
turn also impacts the quality of our water supply because heavy rainfall means that phosphate and nitrate in fertiliser is washed off the land and ends up in our streams with no reeds and marshland to limit the flow.
But February 2 marks World Wetlands Day, dedicated to encouraging us all to be protecting these essential ecosystems. Organisations and charities across the country are getting involved, including the WWT, with Welney in Norfolk among their 10 wetland centres around the UK. “It’s something that we celebrate although everyday is World Wetlands Day here in a way,” Mark says. “Every day of the year we’re trying to get people to come and learn about wetlands, come and enjoy them, and come and see the wildlife.”
Sometimes, with issues like climate change, it’s hard to know what we can do on an individual level but, as Mark points out, there is plenty you can do to help our wetlands.
“There are the obvious things like come and visit a centre or support a charity like us or one of the other major conservation charities. But there are also things that you can do in your garden. The most obvious one is building a pond, which is a mini wetland in your garden, which will be great for wildlife.”
He also explains another helpful tool is to disconnect your rain drainpipe into a pond or a boggy area in your garden, reducing the pressure on the sewage system and stopping the overflow of sewage into open rivers.
Improving our wetlands is good news for us, but also for the wildlife that use them. “Wetlands are incredible for wildlife, including many rare and stunning animals and birds that shelter, swim, nest, bathe and feed in them,” James Wyver from the RSPB says.
Indeed, while wetlands cover only 3% of the UK’s land structure, they support 10% of our species, with all sorts of animals you might expect like frogs and ducks needing them, as well as others you might not,
“Wetlands are incredible for wildlife, including many rare and stunning animals and birds”
like rodents and shrews. And, as James points out, the efforts into protecting wetlands are beginning to have a great impact. “The bittern, a reedbed-loving bird, has bounced back in recent years thanks to wetlands being protected and restored,” he says. “In the future you may see cranes and beavers, both of which have recently returned to some of our marshlands and waterways.”
So with these important ecosystems at risk and plenty to do about it, there’s no excuse not to get involved in protecting our wetlands this month.
See more at wwt.org.uk
Pingo at Thompson Common