An Ode to Wetlands

Posted on February 6, 2011


On February 2nd each year World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, Iran, 1971).

This year celebrated 40 years since the signing of the commonly termed Ramsar Convention and I’m ashamed to say it was all new to me. I’d known about Ramsar sites and have a cold, squishy, sphagnum harbouring section of my heart put aside for wetlands but for some reason felt a little empty for not knowing sooner. Perhaps it boiled down to knowing just how few people have a cold, squishy, sphagnum harbouring heart section to call their own and my neglect in helping them establish one. Of course not all wetlands are inhabited by sphagnum and if you consider the umbrella term “wetlands” defined in the Ramsar Convention you are just as likely to grow some inner coral or rice as the term extends beyond marshes, peatlands, bogs and fens to encompass many systems such as coral reefs, mangroves, lakes oases and even man-made reservoirs and rice paddies.

The treaty itself was formed as a response to rising concerns voiced by governments and non-governmental organisations over the global degradation and loss of wetlands and the subsequent decline in numbers of waterfowl. Indeed, approximately146 species (12%) of Globally Threatened Birds are dependent on wetland habitats1 but with wetlands being the productive and highly biodiverse places that they are birds are not the only taxa to benefit from the Ramsar Convention. Worldwide, innumerable species of fish, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and plants from a large spectrum of wetland systems have been afforded respite from drainage, over-exploitation and pollution. It’s also important to be mindful of the human benefit too; carbon sequestration, water filtration, hydrological balance, the provision of food and water and income through tourism and agriculture.

To date a grand total of 1912 sites covering 186 963 216 ha have been designated as Ramsar sites and the United Kingdom is the proud owner of 171 of these encompassing 927 748 ha (including 24 within the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies).2 That’s definitely something to shout about.

Yes, the official World Wetlands Day has been and gone but our wonderful wetlands are here every day so why not treat yourself to an adventure? A full list of the World’s Ramsar sites can be found at but for now I’ll leave you with a small sample of the sites we have here in the U.K.

Take some time to explore what these wonderful places have to offer. I guarantee you’ll find something amazing.

Crymlyn Bog

Location: Near Swansea, South Wales

Importance: One of the only remaining undrained fenlands in Britain and the largest one in Wales.

Species to look out for:

Fen raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius) – classified as endangered in the U.K.

Lesser water plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) – nationally rare

Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) – U.K. Red List Species

Pettigoe Plateau

Location: County Fermanagh and County Donegal, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Importance: One of the largest areas of blanket bog in Northern Ireland and an important breeding and wintering ground for nationally vulnerable and  endangered birds.

Species to look out for:

Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) – Irish Red Data Book species of international importance

Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) – Vulnerable Irish Red Data Book species

Greenland White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons flavirostris) – Irish Red Data Book species of international importance

Lewis Peatlands

Location: Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Importance: One of the largest continuous areas of blanket bog in the world.

Species to look out for:

Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) – a Species of Europen Conservation Concern

Dunlin (Calidris alpina schinzii) – 31% of the world population during the breeding season


Location: Norfolk, England

Importance: The largest protected wetlands in the U.K. and inhabited by innumerable threatened species

Species to look out for:

Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) – Red Status species

Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon britannicus) – The U.K.’s largest, one of the rarest and of the most stunning butterflies. Only found in the Norfolk Broads and classified as a species of conservation concern.

Depressed river mussel (Pseudanodonta complanata) – Has only been recorded from 63 ten km squares in England and Wales since 1950. Threatened across its entire European range. No wonder it’s depressed!

Holly-leaved naiad (Nijas marina) – only found in the Norfolk Broads and classified as vulnerable.




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