Wetlands are found worldwide, and although they only cover around 1% of the earth’s surface, 40% of all plants and animals depend on them (each year around 200 new species are found in them). There are freshwater wetlands inland, and coastal wetlands (mangroves) along with swamps and marshy lands. However, modern agriculture and urban building have removed many of them, which are essential for our lives and to help prevent climate change.
Often called the ‘kidneys of the landscape’, just like with human bodies, wetlands extract waste to filter it and also can help to prevent flooding. They also provide huge areas for marine mammals and fish to enjoy life, and absorb up to 10 times more carbon than a forest, to help bring down our soaring temperatures. Important habitats for migrating birds, wetlands also house many other species from geese to herons to crocodiles and alligators. If you’ve ever seen those videos of dancing flamingos, many live in watery wetlands, eating crustaceans that turns their feathers pink (the babies are born grey).
Yet a shocking 87% of so of the world’s wetlands have now disappeared, in just 300 years (most in the last 100 years or so). Famed wetlands worldwide are The Everglades in Florida and the marshy lands of eastern England like Norfolk. The largest wetlands include the Amazon River Basin in Central America and Llanos de Moxos (the largest protected wetland in Olivia, the same size as the US state of North Dakota). Other types of wetlands include bogs, mudflats, lagoons and billabongs (isolated lakes left behind, after rivers change course – mentioned in the popular Aussie song Waltzing Matilda).
Friends of the Welsh Harp was created to help protect Brent Reservoir, which has 170 hectares of open water, marshes, woodland and grasslands. One of the most important bird breeding areas in southern England, this nature reserve is one of London’s oldest artificial lakes. One volunteer who used to visit as a child said ‘it was a bit of a dump and dangerous’ but during lockdown she returned and grew to care enough to do something to help it.
She found many beautiful birds, but also decades of rubbish in the water including shopping trolleys, birdcages and traffic cones. So she and 24 other people turned up for something to do, and removed 68 bags of rubbish. Among items found were two parking meters from Kensington & Chelsea (a posh London suburb) and a year later, they had to call the police, as they even found a gun. The most recent campaign is trying to block a planned bridge, that although it will save people a few minutes in walking time, but destroy a bird breeding site.
Re-wilding 8 Acres of Norfolk Marshland
On the Marsh is a book by a writer who re-wilded 8 acres of Norfolk marshland, and brought nature closer to home and to his own family. When Simon heard a Cetti’s warbler sing out as he turned up to look at a house for sale, he knew immediately that he had found his new home. The fact that the garden backed onto an area of marshy land just increased his interest. But there was always the fear that the land could be lost to development or intensive farming.
So his wife saw through the purchase, and once bought, they began to work with the local Wildlife Trust to turn the area into a conservation area for all species. And for their son (who has Down Syndrome), the area became a place of calm and inspiration.
This book shows how nature can always bring surprises. Share their triumphs as new animals (Chinese water deer, otters and hedgehogs) arrive, and watch as the number of bird species tops 100 and keeps on growing. As the seasons progress, two marsh harrier families use the marsh as hunting ground. But also read of disappointments as chemical run-off from neighbouring farmland creates a nettle mono-culture in newly-turned earth. This is a vivid and beautifully written account of the wonders that can be found on our doorsteps, and how nature can transform us all.
Simon Barnes began his career as chief sports writer for The Times, but more recently has written more on preserving nature and wildlife. After 32 years, he was sacked, and some believed it was to do with his blaming illegal grouse shooting for the near extinction of the hen harrier. He wrote ‘Certainly, I have annoyed some powerful people’.