31 January 2013
2 February is World Wetlands Day marking the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Each year since 1997, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, conservation organizations and people around the world have helped raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.
As we highlighted in last month’s wetland feature, wetlands can play a vital role in helping manage water within the landscape - Southlake Moor in Somerset is once again being deliberately flooded each winter with excess flood flow from the River Parrett and is currently storing over one million cubic metres of flood water. This helps protect other parts of the River Parrett floodplain, where houses and roads are at risk, by allowing priority to be given to draining floodwater from these more sensitive areas.
Wetlands also store carbon, helping to slow the build-up of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Our 2010 England’s Peatlands report estimated that blanket bog, raised bog and deep lowland fen store nearly 340 Megatonnes of carbon between them. Keeping them wet is the key to keeping the carbon locked up – as peat dries out, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Since 2004, we’ve been re-wetting Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve (NNR), near Doncaster. Restoration has included the creation of compartments with peat bunds so that water can be carefully controlled, encouraging the growth of peat-forming bog species, mainly comprising Sphagnum mosses and cottongrasses.
As well helping to manage water levels and the atmosphere, wetlands are of course great places to see wildlife. Humberhead Peatlands NNR is an internationally important breeding site for the nightjar. Right now you’ll find wintering wildfowl such as whooper swans and pink-footed geese, and short-eared owls wavering over the peat in search of voles.
In Somerset’s Shapwick Heath NNR – home to Britain’s only breeding great white egrets – you’ll find vast “murmurations” of starlings where hundreds of thousands of birds swarm together in tight flocks. The Ribble Estuary NNR on the Lancashire/Merseyside coast is one of the most important sites in the UK for wintering wildfowl supporting over 100,000 ducks, geese and swans. In the winter the site is home to around 150,000 waders and is an internationally important refuge for 16 bird species and has recently had sightings of the exotically beaked spoonbill.
There’s plenty to see at your local wetland and they’re not just beautiful, they’re valuable. Why not get head out on Saturday and celebrate what special places they are? Find your nearest National Nature Reserve. As well as the Reserves above, you’ll find wonderful wetlands at the Swale, the Wash, Dersingham Bog, Teesmouth and Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses.