Happy World Wetlands Day

February 2024, by Catherine Gordon

Today marks World Wetlands Day, a day when we recognise the importance of wetlands to biodiversity worldwide.

I recently came across a conservation project which highlighted the importance of wetlands to biodiversity here in the UK and their importance in tackling the wider challenges of climate change, particularly the impact of increased flood risk on communities and our landscape.

On a recent family holiday to Cornwall, I discovered that the Lost Gardens of Heligan became the latest UK re-introduction site for beavers during 2023. Other sites in the UK – in Scotland, Devon and Derbyshire – have already seen beavers re-introduced, with some kits already born to these beaver families, the first since beavers became extinct in the British Isles 400 years ago.
Beaver re-introduction projects are being managed by the Beaver Trust, a nature restoration charity established in 2019. Beavers are seen as a ‘keystone’ species, with their re-introduction boosting biodiversity. This is predominantly through the dams constructed by beavers as part of their natural instinct, leading to the creation of more wetland areas as streams and watercourses expand behind each dam. Beavers build their dams to be naturally leaky, so watercourses continue to run, albeit much slower, particularly during periods of heavy rainfall and flooding.

In the case of the site at Heligan in Cornwall, it is also hoped that beaver constructions may reduce the risk of flooding further downstream in the coastal village of Mevagissy due to rainwater being held back by the beavers’ dams. The Heligan site is of added interest for future re-introduction sites in the UK because the large area over which the beavers can roam includes farmland, so project leaders are keen to see the beavers’ impact on Heligan’s grazing livestock.
This trip got me thinking more about the importance of wetlands to our environment and the diverse range of stakeholders who could be impacted by these types of nature conservation and re-introduction schemes, such as landowners, farmers, local residents, tourists, and those running visitor attractions.

The UK Wildfowl and Wetland Trust states, ‘ If rainforests are the lungs of the planet, then wetlands are the lifeblood’. World Wetlands Day recognises and celebrates the importance of wetlands to the world and the diversity of life they support. World Wetlands Day was first organised by a group of environmentalists who wanted to celebrate and protect wetlands. The date, February 2, marks the day when the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. The main aim of Wetlands Day is to spread information and awareness about the value of wetland habitats and encourage people and governments to take action to prevent their loss. Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests, and more than 35% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded or lost since 1970. The U.N. formally instituted World Wetlands Day in 2021.

Wetlands can be very small or very large areas where the land is saturated with water throughout the year, and life has evolved to exist in these flooded oxygen-less conditions. Wetlands are one of the most misunderstood ecosystems, but they are teeming with life and are home to unique plants, fish, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, and birds. Every continent has its own range and variety of wetland habitats, ranging from giant deltas and mighty estuaries to mudflats, floodplains, peat bogs, the humble garden pond and wetlands created by beaver dams. However, wetlands are also extremely ecologically sensitive. They are the most easily affected by environmental changes, pollution and climate change. Even minor changes can prove catastrophic for wetlands and all the life that is dependent on them.

World Wetlands Day reminds us of the crucial role wetlands play in our environment and communities. As we have seen with the beaver reintroduction projects in the UK, such as at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, these initiatives are key to restoring biodiversity and managing climate challenges like flooding.

Wetlands are essential, offering benefits from flood control to climate change mitigation. The experiences from Heligan highlight how important it is to work together, involving everyone who has a stake in these projects – from local folks and farmers to environmentalists and government officials.

Here at MM-Eye, we are passionate about helping nature and people get along better. We specialise in gathering insights that make sure everyone’s voice is heard in conservation projects. Our research helps understand the needs and views of different groups, making sure projects like wetland conservation work well for everyone involved.

We bring together different perspectives to create strategies that help both our communities and the environment. Whether it’s looking into how bringing back beavers affects us all, figuring out how wetlands can help with flooding, or finding ways for people to get involved in protecting nature.

As I discovered at Heligan, a diverse range of stakeholder groups are impacted by any wetland conservation or creation project – residents, farmers, land managers, environmental groups, developers, and Mother Nature herself.

As with any project involving diverse and competing stakeholders, research can ensure all views are captured and considered to ensure the long-term success of the project aims and the buy-in of diverse stakeholder groups.

Please get in touch with the team at MM-Eye if you are interested in stakeholder research or would like to tap into our expertise in sustainability research.