Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil, all year or for varying periods of time during the year. This includes swamps, marshes, bogs, and fens.
Wetlands carry out many beneficial ecosystems services: They can be used to filter sewage from water and buffer pollutants from agricultural and urban land. They also act as great carbon sinks – peat wetlands alone store more carbon in the soil than rainforest, absorbing a third of the world’s total despite only taking up 3%of the world’s surface.
Unique ecosystems, wetlands sustain complex and diverse species communities. More than 100,000 species of animal rely on freshwater ecosystems alone (half of which are insects). They provide habitat for many bird species including the nationally rare bittern, marsh harrier, and bearded tit. Rarer mammal species can also be found in wetlands, such as otters preying on amphibians and water voles feeding on the banks of open waters. Noctule, Daubenton’s, whiskered and pipistrelle bats can be seen feeding over reedbeds throughout the summer months.
Despite these benefits, over 60% of wetlands are thought to have disappeared since 1900, and as a result 57% of associated freshwater and wetland species have declined. Fortunately wetlands are habitats which can be created in a matter of months and years, unlike other vital habitats such as ancient woodlands, hedgerows or rainforest, and organisations such as the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT) are working to restore wetland habitats across the UK.
The WWT London Wetland Centre (located in Barnes, west London) is the world’s first man-made urban wetland reserve and provides a refuge for a wide range of native and migratory birds and other wildlife: including wintering ducks and bitterns, nesting sand martins, and more species of bat than any other site in London.
For more information on wetlands visit http://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/wetlands. World Wetlands Day falls on 2 February every year.
Photo credit: Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB (Shutterstock)