World Wetlands Day
World Wetlands Day is celebrated each year on 2 February to raise awareness about wetlands. Adopted as an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, to which Ireland is a signatory. The treaty was signed in 1971 in the city of Ramsar in Iran and has also known as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
There are 2424 Ramsar sites around the world protecting 254,603,549 hectares and 171 national participating governments. Ireland has 45 Ramsar sites (see Map below) and the country with the most sites is the United Kingdom with 175. To become a Ramsar site, a site must be nominated by a contracting country, meet at least one of nine criteria, and undergo scientific review.
What is a Wetland?
Wetlands are areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and which under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.
Types of Wetlands
- Fishponds, rice paddies, and saltpans are human-made wetlands.
Benefits of Wetlands
Wetlands provide many societal benefits: food and habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; water quality improvement; flood storage; shoreline erosion control; economically beneficial natural products for human use; and opportunities for recreation, education, and research. For example, reedbeds alongside waterways act like the kidneys of the landscape filtering out nutrients and pollutants so keeping our rivers clean while intact bogs act like giant sponges to regulate water flow absorbing excess water in times of flooding and releasing it gradually when rainfall is deficient.
Carbon Storage Benefit
Wetlands are important stores of carbon – when wetland plants die, rather than decomposing and releasing their carbon into the atmosphere, they become buried in the sediment making up peatland soils. These soils, which accumulate over thousands of years, hold vast amounts of carbon and are our biggest carbon store on land. If allowed to dry out, they release CO2 to the atmosphere and rather than mitigating climate change contribute to it. Researchers have calculated that if all of the carbon held in peatlands globally were released, it would raise atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 75% with catastrophic consequences for our global climate.
Peatland rewetting prevents the release of this locked-up carbon, so is a key tool in our fight against climate change. Restoring fens and bogs will also provide crucial habitat for insect-eating plants, wading birds like curlew, dunlin, lapwing, redshank and rare predators such as hen and marsh harriers and merlin as well as numerous insect species. Where full-scale habitat restoration isn’t feasible, testing ways in which peatlands like the fens can be more sustainably farmed is a key part of the solution too.
A great deal of energy is expended to cultivate wetlands by using dryland techniques, principally drainage. Paludiculture or wetland agriculture uses theses lands in their natural wet states so locking in the carbon while still producing food, feed and energy alongside the maintenance and restoration of multiple ecosystem services. It targets the production of plant- or animal-based commodities ranging from harvesting vegetation on semi-natural sites to establishing specific permanent crops such as bulrushes, reeds and alder or willow woodland. Cranberries are a well known fruit crop produced on wetlands.
In paludiculture, the above ground biomass is harvested while below ground biomass remains for peat formation. This harvested biomass can be used as food, feed, fibres for industrial biochemistry, production of construction or packaging materials, high quality liquid or gaseous biofuels, for heat production through direct combustion or for further purposes such as extracting and synthesizing pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. With rising commodity prices, these diverse options illustrate the great potential that paludiculture offers for future circular bio-economy applications, addressing the trade balance and providing rural employment opportunities for countries that can avail of its potential.
Wetland habitats are crucial for wildlife and for people. Together they form part of a dynamic and connected waterscape that can continue to support a huge and unique diversity of wildlife.
Wetlands are also good for mind, body and soul. Ongoing research is looking at how we might use wetlands to achieve better health outcomes faster and more effectively in future.
The natural environment is proven to be especially important in the nature-health interaction for both physical and mental health. The NHS in the UK are now piloting ‘green’ social prescribing to help patients with issues like depression, anxiety, obesity, and heart disease.
In recognition of World Wetlands Day, Green Restoration Ireland reaffirm our commitment to restore our natural Wetlands in the fight against the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss and to improve the ecosystems services to our landscapes.