On 7th June 2022 the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Wetlands, chaired by Slimbridge MP Siobhan Baillie, held its first in-person meeting where MPs and peers heard about the amazing benefits urban wetlands provide and witnessed these benefits first-hand at WWT London Wetland Centre.
MPs met outside Parliament before journeying to London Wetland Centre via boat on the Thames. During the journey they heard from experts at WWT and the Mental Health Foundation about how urban wetlands can boost wellbeing and quality of life.
Time spent in wetlands can be highly beneficial for mental health and wellbeing, explained Abimbola Junaid and Adam Nice from the Mental Health Foundation. They drew on the findings of WWT’s Blue Prescribing project, a wetland health programme specifically designed to promote a range of mental and physical health benefits through wetland nature engagement. Participants in this programme said wetlands provided a sense of escape from everyday environments, helping them relax and feel less stressed.
Wetlands also provide multiple other benefits, as Andy Graham, WWT’s lead for urban and community wetlands, set out at the meeting. These include reducing flood risk by slowing the flow of water and so preventing its build up during periods of heavy rain; reducing water pollution through filtration by wetland plants; and providing opportunities for people to connect with others and the natural environment through volunteering in community wetlands.
Sarah Fowler, WWT’s Chief Executive, ended the presentations by asking MPs and peers to back the policy changes needed to create and restore urban wetlands. In particular she asked them to support making wetland-based drainage systems (known as SuDS) compulsory for all new developments. These can replace traditional drainage and are made up of wetland features such as ponds and rain gardens that capture and store water. They help to reduce flooding and water pollution, while providing people the wellbeing benefits of wetlands.
Following the boat journey MPs saw many of these benefits first-hand at the urban wetlands of London Wetland Centre. They experienced the restorative benefits of the tranquil blue spaces teeming with wildlife and saw how wetlands can collect rain water to create biodiverse wetland spaces, rather than the water heading down the drain or causing flooding. Nick Oliver, Engagement Manager at the Centre explained how even small pockets of wetland in urban areas can provide habitat for animals, bringing nature back into our towns and cities.
MPs and peers were interested to hear about the amazing wildlife at London Wetland Centre as well as the benefits urban wetlands bring to people. In particular, they heard about the how London Wetland Centre, despite being in the middle of the city, is a home for rare species such as Bittern and water voles, allowing people to reconnect with nature on their doorstep.