A Blue Recovery

WWT has set out four proposals for a ‘Blue Recovery’ in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the interrelated climate, nature and wellbeing crises

100,000 hectares of wetlands

Before the pandemic we faced related and escalating crises – climate change, biodiversity loss and our deteriorating wellbeing. These have not gone away and people want urgent action. We can build back better with a green recovery that rebuilds our economy, repairs our environment and restores our wellbeing. We know that wetlands have a unique role to play in this recovery.

That is why we are proposing a Blue Recovery, creating 100,000 hectares of wetlands to function as essential ‘blue infrastructure’. Every wetland created will provide many benefits but each will also function with one overriding primary purpose.

A carbon storage network, creating coastal wetlands to absorb and store carbon

Proposal 1 - A carbon storage network

We have only a decade left to limit global warming to a maximum safe limit of 1.5°C. The UK is legally committed to bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 however, we are not on track to meet this. In 2021 we can help address climate change through the use of nature-based solutions. Wetlands – particularly peatlands, saltmarshes, mangroves and seagrass beds – play a key role in limiting the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Coastal wetland restoration and creation projects like WWT Steart Marshes are rapidly sequestering and storing thousands of tonnes of carbon. There is huge potential to create more of these valuable coastal wetlands as a crucial part of the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change.

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The science is clear. Wetlands are the most effective carbon sinks on our planet.

Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, January 2019

A flood protection network, creating wetland features to reduce the risk of flooding

Proposal 2 – A natural flood protection network

Climate change is significantly increasing the severity of extreme rainfall events and flood risk is now one of the UK’s top climate change risks. The Government has prioritised the creation of flood defences, however traditional ‘hard engineering’ can only go so far in addressing this new reality.

In 2021 we can address flood risk through the use of nature-based solutions. Wetlands play an essential role in regulating the movement of water through landscapes. At Williton in Somerset, WWT is working with partners to create new open water wetlands, install leaky dams on streams and plant trees to reduce local flood risk. This project is already helping to reduce flooding as well as boost biodiversity including insect populations.

There is significant potential to increase the use of wetlands so that they play an important role in the UK’s future flood defences.

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Storms Ciara and Dennis – and communities that have suffered repeated flooding events in recent years – have highlighted to me the importance of making nature’s power part of the solutions we urgently need to tackle the challenge of flooding.

Environment Secretary Rt Hon George Eustice MP, February 2020

An urban wellbeing network, creating accessible wetlands to improve wellbeing

Proposal 3 – An urban wellbeing network

Record levels of stress, anxiety and depression are being diagnosed with poor mental health accounting for 40% of GP appointments and affecting one in four people each year. It’s estimated this is costing the NHS £34bn a year but the wider economic, social and health costs together are even higher, estimated at £105bn per year.

The Government aims to connect more people with green and blue spaces in their everyday lives to improve their wellbeing, however access to such spaces is very unequal, with minority groups and low-income families particularly disadvantaged.

In 2021 we can improve wellbeing through the use of nature-based solutions. Wetlands can provide blue spaces that are especially beneficial to wellbeing, helping people to adopt healthy and more sustainable behaviour (e.g. active travel), inducing positive mood and reducing stress.

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We know that a blue environment can be as good or even better for you than a green one: living near or visiting the coast, rivers and lakes increases people’s reported levels of mental health and wellbeing.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive, Environment Agency, September 2020

A water treatment network, creating wetlands to restore biodiversity

Proposal 4 – A water treatment network

The world faces a biodiversity crisis. Freshwater species and the wetlands they depend upon are being lost at an alarming rate. The UK is committed to improving water quality, however current targets are highly likely to be missed.

In 2021 we can improve water quality through the use of nature-based solutions. Wetlands perform a critical role in protecting and improving water quality by filtering out pollutants. This is not a new concept: for over 30 years WWT has been managing and monitoring wetlands at our centres that are specifically designed to improve water quality. In addition, we have developed different wetland schemes for external organisations for a wide range of purposes, from treating sewage, stormwater and agricultural waste to handling landfill leachate, mine drainage and road runoff.

At our Slimbridge headquarters, WWT has been benefitting from wetland treatment systems which remove up to 10% of total phosphorous, 60% of ammonia and 40% of nitrate.

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The EA's latest water body classification results showed that 16% of waters overall and 14% of rivers are at 'good' ecological status… more needs to be done and we need to go further and faster.

Rebecca Pow MP, Environment Minister, September 2020

Looking to the future

100,000ha is a big and ambitious figure. But it needs to be if we are to meet the challenges we face.

It is also a credible one, recommended to the UK Government by its own advisers, the Natural Capital Committee, to deliver their 25 Year Environment Plan and the concept at its heart of a Nature Recovery Network. Many communities have benefited from wetland creation, however there is potential to do much more.

WWT are experts in wetland creation. Our scientists, practitioners and influencers work in the UK and overseas, on the ground and via global professional networks to provide expertise, knowledge and skills. We will create as many hectares as we can ourselves, help others to do this through training and advice and support local communities to value and care for their wetlands. But we cannot do this alone. Instead we want to work in partnership with government, business and wider society to make 100,000ha of wetlands a reality.

Full Report

Four Blue Infrastructure Proposals for the UK's Recovery

For more detail on each of these proposals.

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Join us, and together we can secure a Blue Recovery.

Our Policy & Advocacy team work to further WWT’s priorities in the UK and internationally in support of WWT’s conservation programmes. We work with Governments and other stakeholders to secure the policy and funding framework required to create a world where healthy wetlands thrive and enrich lives.

For further detail on our four proposals please contact Tom Fewins, Head of Policy & Advocacy, WWT via email at tom.fewins@wwt.org.uk