Wetlands Can! WWT Washington joins call to create more wetlands

Summary

  • New YouGov polling shows 79% of people in the North East support more investment in natural solutions to tackle climate change
  • Poll also shows people believe taking effective action against the climate crisis is now a higher priority than tackling the coronavirus pandemic or ensuring economic growth
  • The poll comes as the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the charity that runs WWT Washington, launches major new campaign Wetlands Can! calling for creation of a network of nature-rich wetlands, three times the size of the Isle of Wight, across the country
  • The campaign is backed by wildlife presenter Kate Humble and actor Sir Mark Rylance
  • Wetlands play a key role in limiting the amount of carbon in the atmosphere: coastal wetlands and peatlands store more carbon, more quickly, than all the world’s forests combined [1]
  • The poll also found most people say they want to do more to fight against climate change and the decline of wildlife in their local area

New online research commissioned by WWT, shows more than three quarters (79%) of people in the North East think that there should be more investment in natural solutions to tackle the climate emergency, with local residents saying they thought taking effective action against climate change was now most important for the future (46%), in comparison to tackling the coronavirus pandemic (28%) or ensuring economic growth (16%).

These results validate the recent Climate Change Committee’s Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk report, which highlights that government needs to prioritise and invest more in natural solutions to tackle climate change. The committee cited healthy wetlands, alongside woodlands, as key to helping government reach its net zero targets by 2050.

The poll comes as WWT, the charity which runs Washington Wetland Centre, launches a new campaign Wetlands Can! urging people to get behind the leading conservation charity’s call for creating 100,000 hectares of healthy wetlands in the UK to help combat the climate crisis. The public can do this by signing a pledge at wwt.org.uk/WetlandsCan to urge the UK government to prioritise and invest in more wetlands.

WWT Washington’s centre manager, Gill Pipes said: “If the Covid crisis has taught us one thing, it’s that we can’t go back to how things were before.

“We need to get serious now about fighting the climate emergency and, as wetlands are particularly fast and cost-effective at absorbing carbon, they need to be an essential part of that fight.”

Wetlands are the most effective carbon sinks on the planet [2], locking away huge amounts of carbon to mitigate climate change. Wetlands also help deal with the effects of climate change by increasing biodiversity and protecting communities from flooding. On top of that, they clean water to bring life back to degraded rivers, lakes and ponds, and help improve our mental health.

The YouGov polling also shows that around 60% of the public want to do more personally to fight climate change (58%) and protect nature and wildlife (61%) in their local areas. In response, the WWT campaign is encouraging people to get practical and help make up for the almost 50% of ponds that have been lost in the UK in the twentieth century [3] by getting outside this summer and creating mini-wetlands, including ponds and drainpipe gardens, in their backyards and communities. These can be built in even the smallest of outdoor spaces. A toolkit on how to create these is available from the campaign website.

The Wetlands Can! campaign is backed by WWT president and wildlife presenter, Kate Humble, who said: “Wetlands are amazing places. Not just important habitats for some of our most loved species, and beautiful and inspiring places for us to spend time, they also do vital work on behalf of all of us - providing natural flood defences and sequestering carbon, which helps combat the effects of climate change. Wetlands can do so much to enhance our lives and are the foundations for a healthy planet, but only if we protect them and create more of them. Please support wetlands by signing WWT’s Wetlands Can! pledge.”

WWT’s Director of Conservation, Dr James Robinson, said the survey results clearly showed how many people want to see more investment in nature to fight climate change.

“As well as tackling the climate emergency, wetlands are amazing for helping us deal with other urgent issues like the collapse of nature and our growing wellbeing crisis – we know from our blue prescribing work how beneficial wetlands can be for mental health.

“Yet they’re fast disappearing with 90% of wetlands lost in England alone. Globally, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. [4] This is why WWT has this week launched the Wetlands Can! campaign – we think wetlands should be as much a part of the conversation about tackling climate change as trees and woodlands. We urge the UK government to get behind WWT’s Wetlands Can! campaign by providing the information, plans and funding needed to create 100,000 hectares of wetlands to build a ‘blue recovery’ from the current climate, nature and wellbeing crises.”

Campaign supporter Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, the government's adviser for the natural environment in England, said: “Humankind’s future lies not in the endless degradation of the natural world, but in its restoration, including for the vital services and benefits provided by different kinds of wetlands. From our wonderful upland blanket bogs to the beautiful floodplain meadows that still border some of our rivers, our wetlands catch carbon, purify water, reduce flooding, inspire the human spirit and host a vast variety of wildlife. They are a vital asset for society and now is the moment to plan for their protection, recovery and expansion.”

The campaign is also backed by one of the world’s leading Shakespearean actors Sir Mark Rylance, a keen environmentalist who starred in the BFG, Wolf Hall and more recently a Radio 4 drama about wetlands. He said: "Climate change, biodiversity loss, the deteriorating wellbeing of ourselves as a species - these things are really serious problems and cause great anxiety, but don’t you think this pandemic has given us the chance to start again? I believe that the Wetlands Can! campaign gives us a simple but effective way to begin doing things differently. It’s calling for a new blue recovery through creating large amounts of healthy wetland nature in the UK to help heal our relationship with nature, each other and our planet. When we lost the vast majority of our wetlands in this country to development, agriculture and other pressures, it wasn’t just nature and wildlife that disappeared but fantastic carbon stores, pollution busters, flood preventers and places to restore our souls. Let’s get this back.”

Wetlands occur where water meets land. They include, marshes, rivers and streams, lakes, estuaries, ponds, peatlands and wet woodlands. 100,000 hectares is around three time the size of the Isle of Wight or 800,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. The total land area of the UK amounts to over 24 million hectares. To join WWT’s urgent pledge to create 100,000 hectares of healthy wetlands around the UK, visit wwt.org.uk/WetlandsCan.