The importance of Wetlands

It’s International wetlands day. A day designed to highlight the importance of wetlands. And they are extremely important.

We’re lucky enough to live on the edge of the Broads National Park, and in the nicer weather you’ll regularly find us enjoying spending some time there.

Yet until recently I didn’t appreciate how important wetland habitats are, and how much of a vital role they play, and can play in climate change.

Why are wetlands important?

For wildlife

A staggering 40% of the worlds wildlife depends on freshwater wetlands.
They are one of the most biodiverse habitats on earth. Providing homes or nurseries to many species and providing invaluable rest points for migratory birds.
They come in many forms and many sizes, right across the world. From mighty estuaries, to marshes, oasis, to mudflats, flood plains to bogs. Even the pond in your garden is an important wetland habitat.

For People

People have relied on wetlands for millennia, and we still do, but we perhaps don’t think about it much.

  • Worldwide they provide livelihoods for 1 billion people
  • And more than 1/2 the world relies on wetland grown produce – such as Rice as part of their staple diet.
  • 50% of international tourists spend time in wetlands.
  • Between providing all of that and more wetlands today still support entire communities
  • They also protect us from flooding and drought. Wetlands are able to act like sponges, this enables them to regulate the flow of rivers, reducing flooding after storms and maintaining flow in dry weather.The water that passes through a wetland does so slowly, getting filtered by the peat on the way, providing us and nature, with cleaner healthier water. In the UK 70% of drinking water comes from upland areas dominated by peat.

But there’s more –

Research by the WWT is showing that being around wetlands and their wildlife can reduce anxiety, depression and stress.
And that in-fact, being in ‘blue spaces’ can be even more beneficial than ‘green spaces’ .

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For the Climate

We hear a lot about the role of ancient woodlands and forests when it comes to climate change. But actually wetlands are just as important, perhaps even more so.

Wetlands often contain high levels of peat. Peat is formed incredibly slowly – 1mm a year. It is made by dead and decaying plants.

Our UK peatlands store an amazing 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. When considered globally, this is even more impressive, as they cover just 3% of land area but in that pack 30% of all soil carbon!
In fact Peat bogs are thought to hold twice as much carbon as all the forests in the world combined!

Another important wetland habitat is mangroves. Global mangrove forests trap 3 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere, mainly underground, in their extensive root systems and in the soil – that’s more carbon than in tropical rainforests.

Wetlands in trouble

For all that they give us, and the important roles they play, wetlands have been undervalued, taken for granted and exploited.

Leaving them in serious trouble.

In fact we are losing them 3x faster than forests. 35% of wetlands have been lost – over a third- since 1970.

They have fallen victim to

  • peat harvesting (for garden compost for example),
  • drainage for agriculture,
  • invasive species,
  • pollution
  • and unsustainable development.
  • As well as climate change.

However, there is good news. Unlike Ancient woodlands and rainforests that can take centuries to regenerate it is possible to create or restore wetlands in decades.
It is an area where we can have a real impact in the re-wilding of our world and the stabilisation of our climate.

What can we do?

  • Make sure to stay peat free when buying compost for your garden
  • Donate to charities that look after and are repairing our existing peat lands, like WWT and wildlife trusts
  • Contact your MP and ask them to make wetlands preservation and creation a priority.
  • Donate to charities like JustOneTree who look to also replant mangroves that have been damaged or destroyed.
  • Volunteer to help out at a wetland reserve near you.
  • If you do visit a wetland area, make sure to treat it kindly and respectfully.

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