On the 2nd of February, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated globally. This day acknowledges and creates awareness about the vital role Wetlands play in the planet’s ecosystem which supports so many species of plants and wildlife.

Not only can we use our Veterinary Nurse voice for animals, but we can use it for the climate too! To raise awareness of your local Wetlands, why not organise a dog walk and bike ride through the area, especially since #WorldWetlandsDay2020 falls on a Sunday! You could make an invite or event on your practices’ Facebook page and get the community together for a refreshing morning with a spot of bird watching too.

With this in mind, keep reading to find out why Wetlands matter!

What are Wetlands?

Wetlands are areas of land which are typically “saturated” or flooded with water, either seasonally or periodically. There is never a time where they are fully dry or fully underwater after being fed by rainfall, rivers, rising groundwater (water coming from an underwater spring) and even melted ice from the last Ice Age!

Wetlands can be inland or coastal, freshwater or saltwater, natural or manmade; marshes, ponds, swamps, moors, mangroves, lagoons, estuaries and even coral reefs and rice paddies!

The plants that grow in Wetlands are typically called hydrophytes, which thrive in watery soil and include reeds, lilies, moss and grass. The amount of water found in different types of Wetlands determines what type of vegetation will grow, and they all host different species of wildlife along various parts of the food chain – from birds, butterflies and mosquitoes, frogs and toads, to otters and shrews!

The three major types of Wetlands are swamps, marshes and bogs which all serve different purposes in the big ecosystem picture.

Swamps – these Wetlands have a lot of trees and plants that are very water tolerant, which are perfectly suited for this “permanently saturated” type of Wetland. Mangroves are classified as salt-water swamps and are found on coastlines, whereas freshwater swamps are found inland on very flat land close to lakes and streams. Hundreds of insects, reptiles and frogs call the muddy swamp floor their home.

Marshes – Found around the mouth of rivers, alongside bays and coastlines, they are the richest ecosystem of biodiversity. They are usually grassy and provide food and shelter for plants, algae, fish and different types of amphibians.

Bogs – Often called Moors in the United Kingdom, they are one of the least fertile types of Wetlands. The soil is more acidic than what is found in swamps and marshes, and they create their own food from using the air, sunlight, water and the decayed vegetation (leaves, tree roots) that sink to the lake bed. The thick mat of decayed vegetation forms peat, a type of fossil fuel which is harvested and used as an energy source for heating and electricity.

Why do Wetlands matter?

Wetlands are found all over the world and on every continent except Antarctica – in the UK, we have over 50 of them! Not only are Wetlands home to an incredibly diverse amount of plants, insects, birds and mammals as we’ve just described, but there are other environmental and economical factors in which they contribute to as well.

Wetlands are now protected areas, however previously they were considered wasted space and were drained to make way for housing and other social developments like schools and hospitals. Their importance has recently been recognised, however many Wetlands will need over 100 years to grow back after being destroyed and altered in the middle of the last century.

From an ecological point of view, one of the biggest contributions that Wetlands have as an ecosystem is their ability to act as a water-treatment facility. The different types of organisms found in them are able to filter harmful chemicals like nitrates and other pollutants that runoff from farms and surrounding urban areas. Anything that is not able to be filtered and purified by the plants will sink to the bottom of the Wetland and get buried safely in the soil.

Wetlands also soak up any excess water from heavy rainfalls which can help prevent flooding – think of them as natures’ big sponge. They also prevent erosion along the coastlines which may otherwise be damaged by wind and ocean surges.

The other reason that Wetlands are so important is because of the economy. It’s not just the recreational and tourism part of visiting Wetlands that is affected, they also have a huge link to the global fish and shellfish market – with over 75% that are harvested globally having being linked to Wetlands.

So, let’s get out there!

You can search for your local Wetlands and Nature Reserve here, but do make sure they’re dog friendly if you wanted to organise a Sunday walk through them. Check out the National Geographic Wetland Encylopaedia or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website for more information about different types of Wetlands and what kind of wildlife you can find in them.