What are wetlands?
Wetlands are found across the world, ranging from giant deltas, mighty estuaries and mudflats to floodplains and peatlands that humans have relied on for hundreds of years.
Some wetlands are famous, such as the Okavango delta, Arctic tundra and the Pantanal. Some wetlands are as humble as the bog and pond at the end of your garden, marshy bits of land so easily overlooked yet so crucial for protecting our environment.
40% of all species rely on freshwater wetlands, despite covering less than 1% of the world’s surface.
Incredible things happen where land and water mix.
Wetlands teem with biodiversity, providing homes for many endangered species and people. They are part of our natural infrastructure, providing essential protection against environmental issues like flooding, drought and pollution.
Why wetlands are amazing
- Health benefits Studies have shown that spending time in or near nature helps ill people to recuperate faster, and reduces stress levels.
- Combating carbon emissions Peat wetlands alone store more carbon in the soil than rainforests do. They store a third of the world’s total despite only taking up 3 per cent of the world’s surface.
- Food and raw materials More than half the world relies on wetland-grown produce for their staple diet. Wetlands can produce far more food if they’re managed in a natural way, such as in WWT’s projects in Madagascar and Cambodia.
- Biodiversity Wetland wildlife is in rapid decline around the world. Wetlands make up only 3% of the UK but are home to around 10% of all our species. So they’re disproportionally important, and nearly two thirds of our freshwater and wetland species are now declining.
- Drinking water Wetlands help to clean our drinking water. They can remove up to 60 per cent of metals in the water, trap and retain up to 90 per cent of sediment from runoff and eliminate up to 90 per cent of nitrogen.
- Powering industry Wetlands power industry. It takes 8,000 litres of water to make a pair of leather shoes.
- Flood protection They can protect us from flooding by storing rainfall and buffering us from the sea.
- They save us money If we had to protect from floods and clean all our water ourselves, economists estimate the opportunity cost in the UK would be at least £6.7bn – which we’d have to meet through higher prices and taxes.
- Medicine Wetland plants are used extensively in medicine. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population relies on traditional medicines from plants and animals.
More than one billion people depended on them, yet the world’s wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests.
Wetlands are threatened
The threats to wetlands are many and varied, ranging from drainage and pollution to invasive species and the overharvesting of wetland resources.
Without conservation intervention, wetlands are often seen as wastelands or non-productive land so they’re filled in or destroyed, as people don’t realise the wider impact for all life. They’re no longer providing the benefits that they once did and could again, and pressures upon them are increasing as both human populations and demands on natural resources grow.
Threats to wetlands
Nearly 35% of the world's wetlands were lost between 1970 and 2015
2018 Ramsar report