What do you get if you cross a sheep with a starfish? Sheepfish? Shish? Steep? No, a solution to water policy.
The high moorlands of the UK are home to thousands of sheep, all respiring, reproducing and excreting. They graze the land and help seed dispersal, provide us with snuggly knitwear and fill us with meat and cheese. However, sheep manure is impacting our starfish. No, sea level rise has not led starfish to the highlands, nor has global warming provoked sheep to develop gills, but if you think back to the endless drawings of the water cycle done for GCSE Geography, a link is inevitable. The terrestrial hydrological cycle starts in the moorlands and ends in the ocean, via various additions and subtractions of nutrients, minerals, sheep poo and pollution. The process works conversely too: rising sea levels result in salt water encroaching upon agricultural land and killing crops. Water policy plans rarely acknowledge these issues as a whole; in fact, marine and freshwater specialists stick firmly to their respective fields. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) notes that not enough people are acknowledging the connections, such as our starfish and sheep.
From mountain to sea, numerous important features can be identified, most notably wetlands. Seasonal or perennial wetlands provide the environmental conditions for a highly distinctive and characteristic fauna and flora, the survival of which is essential to conserving biodiversity. Hydrologically, under certain conditions wetlands may also have an important role in controlling water quality, and regulating surface water flow. Strict wetland management has only really been established in recent years and with that, a distinct divide between freshwater and marine sites. WWT has identified this as a severe shortcoming in water policy, given the intrinsic link between all terrestrial water bodies. The US has been a forerunner in establishing the Integrated Wetland Conservation (IWC) framework and it is high time the UK adopted a similar strategy, to help move wetland issues from their place on the periphery to a central component of integrated environmental management.
In an attempt to marry marine and freshwater (and everything in between) areas for a universal examination and management of our hydrological cascade, Wetland Futures has been established. This year’s conference takes place in Birmingham on 15th and 16th October and is entitled ‘Bridging the gap between freshwater, saltwater and marginal wetlands’.
WWT’s Conservation Policy Officer Hannah Freeman said: “You wouldn’t think Birmingham is the obvious place to discuss the interrelationship between rivers and coasts. But actually that’s the point, we need to appreciate that run-off from agriculture and industry in the West Midlands drains into the Celtic Sea and North Sea, both of which are over a hundred miles away. The more we realise our impact on the wider environment, I think the more we’ll realise how much good work is already happening and hopefully we’ll find ways to join that good work together.”
The conference is the ideal place for specialists in their relative fields to voice issues and hopefully procure a more sustainable future for wetlands, covering issues from land to sea (and everything in between). It is ignorant to believe that these sites should be addressed in isolation and it is bemusing that they have been until now. With ever increasing disruption and interference to the natural world from humankind, it is more important than ever to act in relation to conservation. Everyone is involved somehow – we’re all consumers and, no matter how much we recycle, there’s still an estimated 2,500 items of rubbish per kilometre of beach.
To book a place, visit www.wwt.org.uk/wetlandfutures – there is a student rate available for the event of £70 for 2 days. With an incredible list of speakers booked, a debate and panel session concluding each day and professionals in the field both appearing as delegates and sharing their knowledge as a presenter, this is a prime networking and learning opportunity. There are representatives from the RSPB, Natural England, The National Trust, Yorkshire Water and many other reputable charities and companies. This two-day event offers progressive insights into drivers and constraints to the development and management of healthy wetlands for a range of audiences.
Image: Sacha Dench, WWT