I have spent the past couple of days in the home of the Quakers in Birmingham chairing the 2015 Wetlands Futures conference organised by WWT.  It was hugely enjoyable and instructive.  And while this meant I was unable to participate in Defra’s launch of its big conversation about the promised 25 year plan for the environment, much of what we discussed was apposite.

The focus of our conference was on how to improve the way in which we plan, deliver and join up action to improve our freshwater and marine environments (and the bit in between).  A series of presentations covered the parlous state of these wet and salty ecosytems, the growing pressures they face (especially from nutrient pollution, climate change and invasive non-native species) and the plethora of landscape/seascape initiatives which are trying to make things better (from the Severn to the Thames, from the Broads to Poole Harbour and from Steart to Medmerry and Wallasea).

A summary of these talks was provided rather brilliantly in illustrative form by one of the delegates, Carlos Abrahams (see below and follow him on twitter @abr_eco).

Debbie Pain, Conservation Director of WWT, drew together the conclusions of the event and it struck me how well they chimed with the ten point plan that we had produced in our Response for Nature report.  I hope that Defra folk responsible for our wet and salty environment have read our report because...

...we need an inspiring vision for nature.  This means governments need to be honest about the scale of the environmental challenge and find creative ways to  inspire action.  Professor Penny Johnes said that when it came to nutrient pollution, we were the best in the world.  Wouldn’t it be nice if within 10 years the UK is no longer in, say, the top 20% of nutrient polluting countries?

...we should set goals for nature and natural capital and these must include challenging goals for good ecological condition of all wetlands (as obliged under EU the Water Framework Directive).

...we should defend and implement the laws that conserve nature including full implementation of the EU Invasive Alien Species Regulation and develop list of problem species for which action must be taken.

...we should deliver an ecological network on land and at sea. We may want to go further and find ways to allow us to join up our work across the whole of an estuary rather than have separate approaches on land, at the coast and the marine environment.

...we should continue to safeguard species and be prepared to intervene when fragmented landscapes mean species will be doomed unless we help them colonise new areas.  The successful translocation of the Fen Raft Spider in the Broads was given as an example.            

...we should provide smarter financial instruments to ensure that polluters pay for nutrient  pollution and use funds to ensure appropriate (more frequent) levels of monitoring, to restore wetlands and to support innovative schemes like nutrient offsetting.  And, of course, we must use agri-environment funds in a smart way across landscapes to deliver all the things we want especially for water and wildlife.

...we should develop greener institutions and embed nature across Government and this may even mean much closer working between some agencies such as plant and animal health and those working to tackle invasive non-native species.

...we should set five-year milestones with accountability to Parliament and these could include milestones for the delivery of a UK ecological network of connected sites from ‘source to sea’ as well for the restoration of intertidal areas that can deliver on multiple fronts (carbon sequestration, fisheries, water quality etc.)

 ...we should support people working together for nature and this may mean we need to integrate the existing coastal and catchment networks to deliver an integrated restorative approach to the management of whole water catchments – from source to sea.

...and finally, we should improve people’s connection to nature – the wet and salty bits of our islands are some of the most inspiring places to visit.  They are good for our health and lift our spirits.  As the Quakers tell us, ‘Spirituality is part of who we are, it is part of being human’.

So, it’s time I visited a wetland near the coast...

Sutton Fen RSPB reserve, view from the Norfolk broads with approaching boat, maybe with me on it soon (credit: Ben Hall)