Photo - Reedbeds in the breeze (Tracey Dunford)
With all the recent rainfall, flooding and soggy ground, we may be forgiven for assuming the UK has plenty of wetland habitat. On the contrary flooding is one of the direct outcomes of the loss of good quality wetlands areas.
Why are Wetlands so special?
These areas can take many different forms, including upland peat bog, lowland meadow grassland and the familiar coastal reedbed and mudflats of our very own Newport Wetlands. Wetlands are unique ecosystems where fresh water is retained creating a specialist habitat suited to a diverse range of plants invertebrates mammals and birds. A staggering 40% of the world's wildlife relies on freshwater wetlands, either for breeding or simply feeding and foraging. The harsh truth is that we have lost 90% of our former wetlands in the UK which now cover only 3% of our landscape. Added to this, a tenth of our UK species need wetlands to survive. Many of these species have seen declines of 80-90% over the last 50 years and that is sadly entirely anthropogenic.
Intensive agriculture, over development, and pollution are the biggest causes of the declines in this precious habitat loss. However it is not only nature that is suffering, we too are affected by the loss of natural wetlands.
Wetlands and the climate crisis
Wetlands are the most effective carbon sinks on the planet. Even more so than rainforests or coastal seagrass.
When wetland plants die, rather than decomposing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere, carbon is retained in the sediment. One study has shown that saltmarsh sediment can store carbon four times faster than trees! The loss of this habitat therefore has a double negative effect on climate change. If they are allowed to dry out, not only do we lose the carbon storage ability, but the CO2 stored over thousands of year is released into the atmosphere.
Wetlands soak up excess water during heavy rainfall and slowly release water during dry weather. As these habitats degrade we become more at risk of flooding and droughts. In recent years flooding in particular has affected many areas of the UK, particularly developments on flood plains which would have previously been natural wetland. Flood prevention, clean water and viable soils are known as ecosystem services, they are vital for our own survival and we cannot ignore them.
Wetlands and wellbeing
Healthy wetland areas are brimming with the sights and sounds of wildlife and biodiversity. Long billed waders such as curlew probing estuarine mudflats, amphibians breeding in wet marshland, buzzing bees and perching dragonflies, the flash of a kingfisher and of course the plop of the much loved but endangered water vole dropping into a waterway. This past year more than ever before has highlighted the value nature brings to our physical and mental wellbeing. We need nature and 40% of nature needs wetlands.
Photo - Curlew feeding on marshland (Andy hay RSPB Images)
Photo- Four-spotted chaser dragonfly on a sunny perch (Jeremy White)
Photo - Kingfisher reflections (Jeremy White)
Photo - Rare sighting of the elusive water vole (Tom Marshall RSPB Images)
Look for the positive
Conservation organisations are working hard to protect our wetlands and there are success stories close to home. Last year at Newport Wetlands the very rare bittern successfully bred for the first time in Wales in over 200 years. Newport Wetlands is also a real stronghold for one of the UK's rarest bumblebees, the shrill carder bee. But these habitats shouldn't be limited to nature reserves. Wouldn't it be great if areas like this were on everyone's doorstep in one form or another? The RSPB has a goal to create connected areas across the whole country, waterscapes and wildlife friendly corridors. For this to happen we need as many people as possible to join and make a stand for nature. For the sake of the next generation and the future protection of threatened wildlife, we mustn't let time run out for some of our much loved wildlife.
Our wetlands are precious... we really should treasure them.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience