Posted 30th Jan 2017
World Wetlands Day is on the second of February every year. It marks the signing of an important conservation agreement, the Ramsar Convention, in 1971. Today there are 169 countries signed up to Ramsar, promising to protect their most vital wetlands. Here in the UK, 86 RSPB reserves are, or are located within, Ramsar sites, which have special protection due to their importance for people and wildlife.
Wetlands include lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peat bogs and estuaries. Freshwater wetlands are home to more than 40% of the planet’s wildlife and they’re crucial for people as well.
Each year World Wetlands Day has a different theme, and in 2017 this is “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction”. Wetlands are vital in preventing, and reducing the effects of, floods. The plants and soils of wetlands act as a buffer, taking the impact of fast flowing water. Vegetation like sphagnum moss can then store the water, soaking it up like a sponge.
All over the country wetlands are protecting communities from flooding.
The Aire Valley nature reserves in West Yorkshire, managed by the RSPB, are Fairburn Ings and St Aidan’s reserves. They’re not only a haven for wildlife such as bittern, willow tit and kingfisher, they’re also designated washlands. When the River Aire is high, and at risk of flooding homes and businesses, the nature reserves take the extra water, reducing the river levels, and reducing the risk of flooding in nearby towns such as Castleford and Knottingley. RSPB Medmerry in Sussex protects homes and a water treatment works.
Many of our coastal wetlands are also managed to stop saltwater flowing into freshwater habitats. For example, at RSPB Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk we let the sea in to create a saltmarsh, taking the pressure off an important freshwater area used by avocets, bitterns, otters and water voles.
We’re creating and managing wetlands with the changing climate in mind. Nature reserves like Lakenheath Fen were created to make sure that bitterns displaced from coastal sites due to climate change related sea level rises or tidal surges had alternative habitats. This has proved a huge success, with bitterns now found at 76 sites across the UK. Re-wetting drained peat bogs at places like RSPB Dove Stone in the Peak District will also help to store carbon, reducing the severity of climate change.
Find out more about World Wetlands Day here: www.worldwetlandsday.org/
Visit a wetland this month! Read more about RSPB nature reserves: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
By Jamie Wyver, RSPB
Text and image courtesy of RSPB