It’s time for wetland restoration: World Wetlands Day 2023

Posted: 2nd February 2023

Photo: Gavin Holder

Like much of our natural world, wetlands are not only a source of beauty and wonder but an ecosystem type that provides our planet with essential services. Healthy wetlands buffer coastal areas from storms, absorb and store carbon, filter our water, and provide habitat for many rare and endangered species. Wetlands are often fragile and overexploited habitats, being drained for agriculture, overfished, and harvested for peat. In fact, we are losing wetland habitat three times faster than forests, with almost 90% of wetlands worldwide having been degraded or lost to date.

This year’s World Wetlands Day theme is ‘It’s Time for Wetland Restoration’, which ties into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), adopted by 196 countries in December 2022, calls on countries to “ensure that by 2030 at least 30 percent of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal marine ecosystems are under effective restoration.”

Many projects supported by the Endangered Landscapes Programme are working to restore wetlands. Despite often facing similar threats, each wetland ecosystem is unique and so needs unique interventions for effective restoration. In celebration of World Wetlands Day, we asked our projects about the importance of the wetlands in their landscapes.

An aerial photo of the River Pripyat and its surrounding floodplain meadows, wetlands and oxbow lakes. This is an extremely important site for migrating birds (mainly waders) who stop here to feed on the abundance of food before continuing their migration. Turov area, Polesie, Belarus.

Photo: Daniel Rosengren.

Solent Seascape

The Solent is a strait between mainland England and the Isle of Wight. The Solent currently supports 1,263ha of saltmarsh habitat – a unique and important wetland feature. The high anthropogenic impact has caused the loss of over 50% of the area’s saltmarsh since the 1860s, equivalent to an estimated carbon fixing potential of around 5,000 tonnes per year.

The wetlands across the region provide a range of benefits otherwise known as ecosystem services. They form critical habitat for birds, fishes and invertebrates, as well as providing coastal protection, improved water quality, recreational benefits and wellbeing benefits. They also sequester and remove carbon from the air and are involved in the denitrification processes of coastal ecosystems.

The wetlands of the Solent are of national and international importance, they form part of a vast network of designated and protected areas collectively known as the Solent Marine Sites (SEMS) and includes four Special Protection Areas, a maritime Special Area of Conservation, three Ramsar sites and three Marine Conservation Zones. Within this there are also 16 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

This combination of legislation is in place to maintain their status as they are critical in supporting over 125,000 wildfowl and wading birds, including 10-13% of the world’s population of dark-bellied Brent geese, close to 1,000 pairs of terns (common, sandwich and little terns) and genetically and ecological diverse flora and fauna.

What actions are you taking to restore these wetlands?

Restorative actions for degraded habitats including saltmarsh are planned across the Solent and will involve the use of various techniques. A combination of traditional and novel methodologies will be implemented, including managed realignment, regulated tidal exchange and sediment retention features. Plans are also in place to test the practice of utilising dredge sediment to reinstate the shoreline profile and allow marsh plant species to recolonise carefully selected areas.

Photo: Wez Smith.

Koitajoki Watershed

The Koitajoki Watershed was historically full of marshes. Thanks to the cool climate, it rains more than has a chance to evaporate and water accumulates in the low-lying lands. Marsh vegetation thrives in moist conditions and as it decomposes, peat begins to form. Originally, roughly one third of Finland was marshland. Half of that original peat land area has been ditched and drained for the purposes of industrial forestry and agricultural fields. In 1980’s Finland also became the biggest industrial peat producer in Europe.

Koitajoki’s wetlands contribute greatly to biodiversity and provide well-being for individuals and communities. Restoration of wetlands is one solution for water protection. Wetlands even out flooding and balance the spring and autumn peak flows. They work as natural filters collecting nutrients and organic matter as the flow speed of water is reduced there and the sediment has time to settle to the bottom. Wetlands provide habitats for animals and plants and act as bird sanctuaries and important nesting areas for various migratory bird species.

Wetlands are storages of carbon and restoration of degraded wetlands and peatlands have a capacity to help us to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These areas also offer many great possibilities for subsistence and recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and berry and mushroom picking and bird-watching. Restored wetlands help to restore and diversify entire landscapes.

What actions are you taking to restore these wetlands?

Due to the intensive land-use practices of Finland, there is a great potential for peatland and wetland restoration in our country. There is a growing interest in wetland restoration in through damming and increasing the level of water, mowing, clearing, pasturing and controlling the level of water.

Snowchange Cooperative works extensively in water protection and wetland restoration and preservation, our projects range from large-scale restoration of ditched and drained bogs in eastern Finland, preservation of peatlands in their natural state, large-scale restoration and re-wetting of completely altered former peat mining sites as well as smaller scale wetland restoration activities such as restoration of springs and streams and surrounding areas. Snowchange is currently managing multiple large-scale watershed restoration processes across Finland.

Photo: Mika Honkalinna.

Cairngorms Connect

The Cairngorms Connect landscape includes Insh Marshes – 1,000 hectares of internationally important wetland stretching from Kingussie to Kincraig.

Owned and managed by the RSPB since the 1970’s Insh Marshes is one of the least modified floodplains in North-West Europe. It is important for the numerous National and International designations, including a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Designations highlight and protect aspects such as the wetland habitats of the floodplain, the aspen stand, rare insects, birds and mammals.

Our long-term vision is to transform Insh Marshes into a prime example of a naturally functioning floodplain and river system. The river and floodplain will be more connected, tributaries unrestricted by historical modifications and relic ditch systems will no longer have a negative impact on protected wetland habitats. These changes will increase the resilience of local communities and the natural riches of Insh Marshes against climate change, while keeping management requirements sustainable.

What actions are you taking to restore these wetlands?

Following extensive community consultation, the first of the floodplain restoration projects got underway in early 2022. The project aimed to slow the flow of water and provide better habitat for fish to spawn, rest and feed, through the installation of uprooted trees in the river Tromie.

Technically known as “Large Woody Material”, 9 spruce tree trunks were strategically placed in the river Tromie. Here, they were buried in the riverbed with the root plate facing upstream, replicating natural events but securing the trunk and root plate further into the riverbed and shingle banks.

Once lodged in the river, the root plate alters the flow of the river. During flood events, rock, sand and silt get deposited by the river, building up in different ways round the root plate, creating new habitats like shingle banks. These new habitats should benefit a range of species including rare insects, like the 5-spot ladybird and northern silver-stiletto fly.

The range of habitats created by the simple and effective installation of woody material will provide spawning, feeding and resting habitats for fish such as Atlantic Salmon. A wide range of aquatic invertebrates will also benefit from this ‘messier’ habitat, and birds like dippers, kingfishers and goldeneye will reap the benefits of healthier invertebrate and fish populations.

This work is supported by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot, and the Endangered Landscapes Programme.


Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve

The Mura, Drava, and Danube rivers flow through the five-country UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube where they have created multiple steep banks, gravel and sand bars, side branches, oxbows, marshes, and a wide floodplain that is losing its connection to the river. Previously the floodplain was fully connected to rivers, however in the modern days due to engineering ways of river management, it is losing its connection to rivers. Side branches are missing water due to river incisions which we have due to many reasons as the hydropower dams upstream which are causing a lack of sediment, as well as sediment excavation and shortening of the rivers, etc.  Many protected birds (sand martin, European kingfisher, little ringed plover), and fish (European mudminnow, sterlet) species can be found here as well as many other important species.

Those three rivers provide people with pure drinking water, recreational spaces, and a beneficial microclimate. Due to this exceptional scenery and high biodiversity, we have a network of 13 protected areas, two Ramsar sites, and Natura 2000 sites designated in the EU part of the landscape. People can also benefit from sustainable tourism activities and promote sustainable agriculture.

What actions are you taking to restore these wetlands?

The project will work with communities and government partners to directly restore four sites that are quintessential habitats (wet meadow, two side-branches, and floodplain forest), covering 1,100 ha of the floodplain landscape in three countries. This will provide benefits for more than 30 IUCN red list species, and have positive impacts for six Natura 2000 sites. Those direct restoration measures will increase water retention capacity during floods, minimise droughts and negative impacts of hydropeaking of the last Drava hydro-dam, enlarge spawning areas, increase nesting habitats for 250,000+ water birds and kick-off nature-based wet meadow and forestry management on the landscape level.

Photo: Simon Veberic.

To find out more about World Wetlands Day, visit their website

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