Parched England thrown watery lifeline

A major new project which will span five decades is to be launched in an effort to turn the tide on Englands disappearing wetlands - a valuable water resource.

As well as providing habitat for a huge array of biodiversity, wetlands perform a useful service as natural water purifiers and reservoirs.

Over the centuries, however, much of England’s wetlands has made way for agriculture and development.

Now the Environment Agency has joined forces with English Nature and the RSPB to unveil plans for a 50-year vision that should see some of the most damaged sites repaired and restored.

“The central message of the project is that the future for the UK’s rivers and wetlands is too important to leave to chance,” said a spokesman for the EA.

“Wetlands are one of the most important natural resources on Earth. They provide livelihoods for people, support a stunning variety of wildlife, and form part of a healthy and functional landscape.

“However, in England the past three centuries have seen devastating losses: fens have been drained, grazing marshes ploughed, reed beds polluted, rivers straightened, and lowland bogs mined for their peat.

“Moreover, a changing climate sees the South East of England facing the consequences of the one of the driest winters on record: rivers are parched and water tables are at their lowest recorded levels in some areas.

“Wetland wildlife such as otters, water voles, lapwings and frogs are all facing an uncertain future.”

Consultation on the direction the project should take was launched this week to coincide with World Wetlands Day.

David King, director of water management for the agency said: “Wetland habitats can provide really useful benefits for people because they can help reduce flooding pressure, recharge underground water supplies, filter out pollution and buffer the extremes associated with climate change.

“In short, if we put wetlands back in the right places, the benefits for people and wildlife could be huge. A bold vision and bold action will help secure these benefits.”

Biodiversity Minster Jim Knight said: “Our wetlands are a valuable part of the landscape, and it’s clear that we need to take action now to save these precious habitats and the wildlife they support.

“This is a timely project that addresses the real problems that real people are facing, and is a great step forward in our efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

“I congratulate all the partner organisations for their efforts in bringing us to this point – it is a great example of how by working together we can achieve so much more. I call on everyone with an interest in protecting our wetlands and wildlife to have their say and contribute to this important consultation.”

By Sam Bond

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