Worthy Wetlands

Wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and important ecosystems services for people. These services include space for wading birds, insects and other wildlife, all of which work together to keep the ecosystem in balance. Healthy rivers provide protection from flood risk downstream by regulating water flows throughout the landscape/ catchment from the River’s source to its confluence, especially in drought and flood conditions. Wetlands can also act as a buffer and protect from land runoff or pollution so people can enjoy a positive fishing experience, swim, kayak or other waterside activities. Such activities are known to have a beneficial effect for mental health and anxiety, as well as their benefit to physical health.

Figure 1 New wetlands constructed in Milton under Wychwood @Dave Gasca

However, around the world, wetlands are often drained to make way for increased or more efficient agricultural productivity thereby limiting and degrading the service they provide to people, and the Evenlode Catchment is no stranger to this. With the increased risk of flooding, exacerbated by climate change in recent decades, unsustainable food production methods and the National loss of wetland habitats, at a rate higher than marine and terrestrial ecosystems, should we relook at wetlands and their use for society?

Wetlands have been reinvigorated on the Evenlode in recent years and there is a realisation and appreciation in the catchment for wetlands and their value to local society. Environmentalists sometimes question the need to always put a price tag on nature and assert that nature has an intrinsic value - it is our long-term life support system and this is reason enough to protect it. They are of course right, but the unfortunate reality is that many people do not share this view.

Over the last 4 years the Evenlode Catchment Partnership (ECP) has been creating wetlands thanks to collaboration with landowners, the Environment Agency and other crucial stakeholders who understand the value and need for more wetlands. The ECP has created over 30 natural leaky woody dams and wetland habitats and over 30 ponds to contribute to wildlife and ecosystem services in the area.

Farmers and landowners on the Evenlode are increasingly using “seasonal grazing” where meadows can be wet during winter months and left dry for summer months to allow grazing. Increased floodplain reconnection may be beneficial to the growth of juvenile salmonid fish especially Brown Trout on the Evenlode, which are often targets of restoration. This is incentivising the scale up of wetlands and river restoration around the area, especially with the economic potential it can bring for farmers and landowners, as well as the angling and fishing community.

Would you rather see wetlands drained for arable and livestock production or see them restored for their multiple socio-ecological benefits?

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