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Natural England - Wetlands hold the key to protecting our past and future

Wetlands hold the key to protecting our past and future

7 July 2008

‘Wetland Vision’ sets scene for wetland creation and restoration across England.

Issued on behalf of the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, Environment Agency and English Heritage

Large areas of wetland need to be created, protected and restored across England in the next 50 years if the country is to meet the challenges of the future.

The call comes from the Wetland Vision Partnership, an alliance of conservationists and government agencies, including the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, the Environment Agency and English Heritage.

The Partnership has produced a series of maps showing the loss and fragmentation of the country’s wetlands and where opportunities exist to create new ones.

Increasing pressure on land use and a changing climate mean our wetlands need to be protected and extended to safeguard our heritage and wildlife, reduce flood risk to people and property and combat climate change by storing carbon.

England has lost 90 per cent of its wetlands in the last 1,000 years, much of them since the industrial revolution. Land drainage, river engineering and abstraction of water for homes and industry mean those that remain are often small and isolated.

The maps and the information behind them will help target the restoration and creation of thousands of acres of reedbed, grazing marsh, ponds and wet grassland.

Carrie Hume, the Wetland Vision Project Manager, said: “We have created an extremely powerful tool to help restore England’s wetlands, which are among our most useful as well as our most beautiful landscapes.

“Great efforts are already being made by groups involved in wetland conservation, but our Vision signals a step change in ambition for the partners in the project.

“By showing what is possible and where, we can unlock the potential benefits for people and wildlife and inspire action to preserve and create wetlands across the landscape, from local ponds to wide expanses of fen.”

The hope is that as well as informing the partners’ work, the maps will be used by everyone from community groups to local authorities and from farmers to water companies.

Carrie Hume said: “If we invest in wetlands, we will be richly rewarded.

“In the right places, wetlands offer natural flood water storage and improved water quality, lock away huge amounts of carbon, provide havens for wildlife and fantastic places for people to visit and enjoy.

“What is more, wetlands contain some of England’s most significant heritage, including the remains of plants and animals, which help us understand past environments and unique artefacts made from materials like wood or textiles, which are preserved in these wetland sites.”

-Ends-

Notes to editors:

1. Supporting quotes from partners:

Fiona Mahon, The Wildlife Trusts’ planning and water policy manager, and member of the Steering Group said: “The Wetland Vision project has provided us with a range of useful tools that will help in the delivery of inspirational and ambitious landscape-scale wetland schemes over the next few decades, for the benefit of wildlife and people”.

Rob Cunningham, the RSPB’s Head of Water Policy, said: “Iconic wetland wildlife like bitterns, kingfishers and marsh harriers are a cherished part of our natural world - but they are fragile. We are not looking to turn back the clock, but to establish a place for wetlands in a modern countryside at a time when demands on our land are increasing. In the future, we will have to make our countryside deliver as much for people and wildlife as it can. This Vision shows where wetlands could fit and what services they could deliver.”

Ann Skinner, the Environment Agency’s National Conservation Policy advisor, said: “In today's world we have forgotten just how important wetlands are to us as we are no longer directly dependent on them. Not only are they naturally productive, they also help to store and cleanse floodwaters, trap sediments and process nutrients, recharge our aquifers and lock up carbon. By setting out a shared vision for the future with our partners on this ambitious project, the Environment Agency believes we can deliver a sustainable future for wetlands that people can enjoy and wildlife can thrive in, and one that will help us to face the challenges that lie ahead from climate change.”

Jim Williams, English Heritage regional archaeological science advisor, and Steering Group member said: “Wetlands are unique places. The range of materials that are preserved in their waterlogged soils provides us with a much more complete picture of life in the past. It is important that we maintain the wet conditions on these sites. Just like wetland wildlife, wetland heritage is at risk, and sites are being lost or damaged daily. By working with our partners on the Wetland Vision, English Heritage believes that we have an opportunity to secure a viable future for the historic environment of England’s wetlands”.

Alastair Burn, Natural England’s freshwater specialist, said: “Wetlands are some of the most important landscapes on earth and they are under threat. These landscapes provide vital wildlife habitats and public services. By increasing the natural capacity of the countryside to absorb and hold excess water, the risk of flooding could be dramatically decreased. The restoration and enhancement of wetland peat bogs could save around 400,000 tonnes of carbon a year. Natural England's recent State of the Natural Environment Report illustrates the dramatic decline in wetland birds such as lapwing, curlew and redshank. The Wetland Vision project unites the UK's leading environmental organisations in a bid to restore and re-create a network of wetlands for the benefit of people and wildlife alike.”

For more information contact:

John Clare, RSPB media officer 01767 693582/07738881359
Renee Fok, English Heritage 0207 973 3297
Anna Guthrie, The Wildlife Trusts 01636 670075/07887 754659
Zula Haigh, the Environment Agency 0207 8638617
Beth Rose, Natural England 020 7932 2234/07900 608052

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