World Wetlands Day

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2 February is World Wetlands Day, and people all over the world are raising awareness about the importance of wetlands and how to protect them. 

We spoke to Myfanwy Lloyd, the education officer at Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve, Walthamstow Wetlands. As a former Scout, Myfanwy was the perfect person to explain why wetlands are so valuable, and what Scouts can do to help look after them. 

First things first, what exactly is a wetland? 

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem where water covers the soil, usually permanently but sometimes seasonally. That water has an influence on the soil, the plants, and the whole ecosystem that’s there. You find plants that are really specific to water and to that environment, and you find lots of animals (especially invertebrates) that only live in that environment as well. 

Can you tell me a bit about your role at Walthamstow Wetlands?

I work for the London Wildlife Trust and am an outdoor learning officer based at Walthamstow Wetlands. I do all of the informal and formal education on the site, so I work with families and community groups (like the Scouts) and organise school trips, forest school, and other big events.

Can you tell me a bit more about what you’ve done with some Scout Groups before? 

Yes! We do a few different things. We work very closely with Thames Water – they’re one of our partners on site. Thames Water have a fishing academy here so we’ve done some joint sessions with them where Scout Groups come and learn how to fish. We’ve also run sessions with Scouts based on habitats and animals, doing things like pond dipping and minibeast hunting, as well as bird watching and tours to think more about the wider ecology of the site. We’ve also had some Scout Groups come at the weekend who’ve taken part in community events such as tree planting. 

 

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Why is it important that we protect our Wetlands?

It’s really important – they offer a habitat unlike anything else. They have aquatic species and plants that only thrive in that environment. They also provide a haven for birds – a lot of migrating bird species use them as a haven between the different points on that migration route. In an urban environment like Walthamstow they support all of the urban wildlife, but they’re also important for the people that use the site and their wellbeing.

World Wetlands Day is coming up on 2 February 2019 – the theme is Wetlands and climate change. What do Wetlands have to do with climate change? 

In the UK, due to climate change we’re expecting waters to rise – Wetlands are really good at helping protect us from some of the problems of flooding. Wetlands provide places for water to be stored, so they give the urban infrastructure a bit of a break from those issues of flooding. Globally however, climate change is having a very negative effect on wetlands, especially around the equator and areas that are suffering a lot from drought. We’re seeing a real loss of wetlands. Wetland habitats globally are disappearing three times faster than forests; climate change is only one of the reasons behind this, but it is definitely contributing. Wetlands plants and animals are currently in crisis – about a quarter of wetland species are on the extinction list. There’s a lot that climate change is doing that’s impacting on wetlands around the world.

What can Scouts do to help their local Wetland? 

Most Wetlands are with charities like the London Wildlife Trust or the RSPB who offer lots of events for people (including Scouts!) to help out. Whether it’s through community events (like the ones we run here every Sunday) or other volunteering opportunities, Scouts could do a bit of practical conservation. There’s also lots of work Scouts could do in terms of fundraising for charities who do look after Wetlands, whether that’s a local or a national charity. Raising awareness is really important. A lot of people don’t know the importance of wetlands; a lot of people are very aware of deforestation and the risks of that, but aren’t as aware of the problems of losing this habitat as well. So, there are lots of opportunities for Scouts to work with their local community, doing research, finding out about things, giving talks, doing posters, all the usual kind of things that Scouts do really. 

 

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You mentioned that you run community events here – what sort of things do you do at those? 

Every other Sunday we have an open afternoon where families or community groups can come and do really light conservation work such as planting trees, litter picks, and bird counts. These little things help support us in the conservation work we do here.

What about Scouts who don’t live near a Wetland? Is there anything they can do to help? 

Something I’ve supported groups with before is an information swap – so if one Scout Group lives near a woodland, and another Group lives near a wetland, they could share information. Groups could join up with other Groups somewhere in the UK or somewhere globally to share that information and knowledge. Also, all of the fundraising and raising information – any Scout Group can do that as well. 

Don’t forget that clean water and sanitation is one of the issues you can support through A Million Hands. You can find out more about what you could do on the A Million Hands Website

For more information about World Wetlands Day, including events happening near you, visit: https://www.worldwetlandsday.org. For more information about Walthamstow Wetlands, visit: https://walthamstowwetlands.com

Images: Penny Dixie

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