Concerns raised over role of wetlands

Flood risk management and the protection of biodiversity are not necessarily compatible functions of wetlands, a leading figure from the Environment Agency has said.

Speaking at this year’s World Wetlands Day Conference, Duncan Huggett, habitats policy advisor at the agency, said trying to achieve both aims in the same place at the same time was not always realistic.

Mr Huggett told delegates it was significant that biodiversity was not mentioned once in the Pitt Review of the summer 2007 floods, and schemes to reduce flood risk and to promote biodiversity may need to be delivered separately.

He said: “We must be realistic about what is achievable. We must be clear about what flood risk management schemes are supposed to deliver and it is time to take stock.

Dr Colin Studholme, from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, told the conference that the July floods had severely affected wildlife, particularly birds and invertebrates, in the county’s wetlands.

He recommended that if those wetlands continued to be used both to reduce flood risk and to support wildlife, they needed to be expanded.

“We don’t think there’s huge capacity for the existing ones to cope with flood storage, Dr Studholme said.

“Is it right that we are creating these wetlands to attract nesting birds with the problem that they are washed out every two or three years?”

However, Rob McInnes, head of wetland conservation for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) urged Sir Michael Pitt, author of the Pitt Review not to discount the role wetlands could play in flood risk management.

He said: “Those who work on the ground know that changes in land management are resulting in much greater run-off of rain and that is exacerbating the flooding we are experiencing.”

The conference, organised by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), was held to mark World Wetlands Day – an annual celebration of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in Iran on February 2, 1971.

Kate Martin

edie+ subscribers can listen to speeches from Colin Studholme and Duncan Huggett by following this link.

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