Today is World Wetlands Day, an annual event run by the Ramsar Convention for the past twenty years to recognise the importance of wetland habitats. For 2017 the focus is on the value of these habitats to humanity, so I’m going to talk a little about that, and a little about why I love wetlands.
The winter of 2015/16 in the UK saw dramatic and disastrous floods that many are yet to recover from. This is by no means unique to the UK, and many parts of the world, especially around the equator, see far worse every year. Serious flood events are forecast to increase as climatic systems become unstable in a warming world and sea levels rise. Even heritage is at risk, which is why many wetlands feature on the UNESCO list.
In amongst the red herrings that were thrown about as ‘causes’ for the UK flooding last year, one valuable point was raised, a genuine contributor to the problem. Over decades, upland wetland habitats have been drained to provide grazing land for animals, and on a smaller scale commercial enterprises such as shooting estates. They are drained, and then measures put in place to speed run-off of rain into water courses. This water, no longer held in what were wetlands, moves into the lowlands where it settles and causes flooding.
As such, restoration of wetlands in the UK is not just a matter of pure wildlife conservation. It is about human conservation. Allowing blanket bogs and woodland to establish in the uplands acts as a sink for rainfall, meaning less comes into the river systems. It is sustainable and sensible flood defence.
Although the theme for 2017 is disaster risk reduction, I also want to talk about why I love wetland habitats. They provide some of my favourite places in the UK, reserves such as WWT Martin Mere, RSPB Leighton Moss, YWT North Cave and RSPB Old Moor are wildlife-rich havens of beauty, tranquillity, drama, and spectacle.
You find some of our most beautiful wildlife here, from specialist birds of prey such as the Marsh Harrier, to elegant waders. In winter they are home to thousands of migrating waterfowl. They house rare bogplants and acres of reedbed. Standing by a reedbed in spring is both peaceful and remarkably noisy at the same time.
Reptiles and amphibians find homes in our wetlands, as do ancient creatures such as dragonflies that patrol the surface of the waters.
A day at a wetland can cram in enough wild experience for a lifetime. Except, once you have had that first day, you will want more.
While it is easy to think of wetlands as vast tropical swamps, you can create a wetland in your own garden. A small pond with a slightly damp margin is a wetland in microcosm. Later this year I will be building this micro-habitat at home, and I will document every step of it on this blog.