The life aquatic - How wetlands can help reverse climate change

31 January 2019 | Posted in Fran Southgate , Wetland
The life aquatic - How wetlands can help reverse climate change
Little egret © Neil Fletcher

By Fran Southgate

Living Landscapes Advisor

Scientists and experts are telling us that if we don’t take drastic measures to reverse climate change in the next 20 years, we will reach an irreversible juncture of climate consequences way beyond anything we have experienced to date. The message is clear, that we need to take action to reverse this, and fast. There are many forms that this action can take, but restoring and respecting our existing wetlands is one of them.

Wetlands are naturally low lying or water fed areas of land which help store and filter huge amounts of water for us. They act as shock absorbers for extreme weather around our coastlines (i.e. saltmarsh, mangroves and seagrass beds), helping to shield the 60% of humans who live and work along coastlines from flooding, tsunami’s and storms. They also store floodwater from extreme rainfall events, are hugely fertile food producing areas, they relieve droughts by acting as natural sponges for water, and increasingly importantly, they store vast amounts of carbon.

Wetlands such as ponds and peatlands are some of the most effective carbon sinks on earth. Peatlands cover about 3% of our planet’s land and store approximately 30% of all land based carbon – which is twice more than all the world’s forests combined. The combined water storage capacity of our river landscapes would be immense, if we allowed our historic washlands and natural wetland habitats to hold onto more water. We can do this by stopping or reversing the drainage of our wetlands. When drained or burned for agriculture, wetlands go from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, releasing into the atmosphere centuries of stored carbon. CO2 emissions from drained and burned peatlands equates to 10% of all annual fossil fuel emissions.

As more extreme weather is predicted going forward, Sussex Wildlife Trust is working with partners to be part of the solution to climate change. With the help of local landowners and communities, we are restoring our local landscapes, to address climate change through the wise use of wetlands. Sussex Flow Initiative is a Natural Flood Management project which works all over Sussex to help undrain, re-wet and restore natural washlands and wetlands. This year alone we estimate we have helped to slow down and store around 11 million litres of water every time it rains hard, helping us to buffer some of the effects of this years drought as well as starting to increase the amount of carbon being stored in our wetlands again.

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