Aigas Field Centre
Aigas Field Centre

World Wetlands Day

2 February, 2022. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

Today is World Wetlands Day, a celebration of the day the Ramsar Convention for the protection of wetlands was signed in the city of Ramsar in Iran in 1971. A wetland is a land area which is either permanently or seasonally flooded with water. Wetlands can be found both coastally and inland. Coastal wetlands include salt marshes, estuaries, mangroves, and lagoons. Inland wetlands are of equal importance and include areas such as marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains and swamps. The formation of this convention included the creation of ‘Ramsar sites’; these specific sites designate certain wetland areas to be of international importance. The nearby inner Moray firth and Beauly firth is a designated Ramsar site and a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its importance for wintering waterfowl such as the bar-tailed godwit Limosa lapponica.

© Matthew Broadbent

From water purification to carbon sequestration, wetlands have a long list of surprising benefits. Often hailed as the natural solution to climate change, plant matter decays and accumulates in the waterlogged conditions of a wetland making them hugely important in storing carbon. Despite only covering 12% of the UK’s land area, wetlands are responsible for storing over half the country’s carbon . These habitats also protect us from extreme weather events by storing rain and creating a buffer between land (or human settlements) and the sea. Most wetlands are also peat forming, which are created when the ground conditions are too wet and anaerobic for vegetation to decompose. Again, peat is a vital carbon sink, storing twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. Peat is also beneficial as a form of flood defence and water purification. Peatland supports a large number of plant species including sundews, and are also home to many invertebrate and bird species such as raft spider and hen harrier. This is why we try our best to preserve the peat bog we have on site here at Aigas.

© ROAVR

Despite wetlands being one of our most important habitats for conservation and wildlife, with 40% of the world’s species being linked to wetlands, they are unfortunately one of our most threatened habitats with 87% of global wetland being lost in the last 300 years; wetlands are often drained or destroyed to make way for the development of agriculture, homes and industry. Pollution is also a huge threat to the health of our wetland ecosystems with 80% of global wastewater being released into wetland habitats untreated, leading to accumulation of contaminants from factories and agriculture. Invasive species pose another threat to wetland health and biodiversity with non-natives such as killer shrimp Dikerogammarus villosus (native to areas around the Black Sea) and common water hyacinth Pontederia crassipes outcompeting our native plants and invertebrates. This combination of habitat loss, pollution and competition puts our wetland wildlife at the greatest risk of extinction.

© Laurie Campbell

There are several ways you can be directly involved in wetland conservation.

  • Making a move to stop using peat-enriched compost is a brilliant way to reduce your impact on wetlands. When peat is dug out of a bog this causes the surrounding area to dry out, releasing large amounts of carbon which had previously been sequestered underground. Instead, there are alternative materials you can use to enrich your garden soil such as bark chippings, wood fibre, coir, and compost.
  • Create a bog garden. Instead of draining any waterlogged areas of your garden, allow this area to thrive into a boggy garden which will provide valuable habitat for invertebrates and plants. By allowing any soggy areas to remain, moisture- loving plants will be able to grow which would otherwise struggle. This may then attract new invertebrates and birds into your garden.