Wet­lands:

World Wet­lands Day is cel­e­brated all over the globe this month – but why are these damp pieces of land so im­por­tant?

Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Fay Wat­son

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

Bit­tern

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