Wetlands ‘need to be restored on a massive scale’ to cope with new droughts

Wetlands need to be restored “on a massive scale” to cope with a drier summer ahead, conservationists have said, as the specter of drought looms.

The Wildlife Foundation says the past century’s loss of wetlands due to development, drainage for agriculture and over-harvesting by water companies must be reversed to protect river flows and wildlife as the climate warms.

The call comes as months of low rainfall and recent heatwaves have resulted in river levels exceptionally low, reservoirs depleted and soil very dry, putting pressure on the environment, agriculture and water supplies. and also increases the risk of forest fires.

Parts of England had their driest July on record dating back to 1836, after the nation’s driest eight-month period since November 2021 since 1976.

Two water companies, South East Water and Southern Water, have announced a hose ban that will take effect in the coming days.

Other firms have so far refrained from imposing restrictions despite low water levels, although some say they may have to impose bans if the dry weather continues.

Every year we find ourselves in such a precarious position, and at the very last moment, when the water level in the rivers reaches its lowest level, we get discussions about temporary bans on use.Mark Lloyd, Rivers Trust

Water companies in England and Wales, which circulate about 2.4 billion liters of water from their network every day, must have plans in place to ensure an adequate supply of water, including reducing leaks, encouraging customers to use water wisely and putting a drought-free hose ban. .

Households that have not yet been affected by the restrictions are urged to avoid using hoses to water the garden or wash the car.

But water companies have been criticized by conservationists for leaving the “last possible moment” to impose restrictions when rivers are in a “desperate” state and for last-minute announcements that spur water demand up to ban on the use of hoses. Sign in.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust, said: “Every year we find ourselves in this precarious position, and at the last possible moment, when the water levels in the rivers are at their lowest, we are faced with the discussion of temporary use bans.

“The last-minute announcement of this has people rushing to wash their cars and refill baby pools, wash the dog and boost demand before the ban goes into effect.

“This must happen before the rivers become desperate and there is not enough water for wild animals.”

Ali Morse, water policy manager for The Wildlife Trusts, said the wetlands needed to be restored to cope with future drier conditions.

As our climate changes and we face drought and drought periods, we must restore wetland habitat on a massive scale.Ali Morse, Wildlife Funds

“Development, drainage for agriculture and over-harvesting by water companies has resulted in the loss of 90% of our wetlands over the past 100 years – with devastating impacts on wildlife and the natural processes that allow ecosystems to function,” she said.

“As our climate changes and we face drought and drought periods, we must restore wetland habitat on a massive scale.

“This will help keep water in the landscape when it is in short supply, replenishing river flows and providing a much-needed boost to wildlife.

“These same wetlands also retain water during floods, benefiting people by reducing the risk of flooding downstream,” she said.

The return of wild beavers to British rivers could play a critical role in recreating the wetlands, she said, urging the government to give confidence and incentives to farmers to allow the species to return.

“Wild beavers can help us do most of this work. They are changing habitat by blocking streams, cutting down trees and ultimately creating the wetlands we desperately need.

“It is very important that the government clears the way for the return of wild beavers by providing guarantees and incentives to farmers to allow these ecosystem engineers to get to work.”

A study by the University of Exeter on two beaver sites in Devon as part of the Devon Wildlife Trust’s return trial shows that not only do they slow down the flow of water to reduce the risk of flooding after heavy rain, but they can also store water to maintain flows during . periods of drought.

Beavers, once widespread in Britain, were extirpated by the 16th century for their meat, fur and glands, but they are now making a comeback and now live in the wild on a number of rivers as well as closed areas.

Professor Alastair Driver, director of Rewilding Britain, said projects that restore natural hydrological processes through measures ranging from blocking upland runoff to reintroducing beavers can increase river flows, make them more stable and keep water on land.

Restoring wetlands and wetlands can also reduce wildfire risk or act as a firebreak, improve water quality, and providing shade over rivers with more trees can reduce water temperatures and evaporation.

And he said: “If we focus more on restoring our floodplains and reconnecting the river with other areas, so that you get wetter, swampy in the floodplains and more shade, that combined makes a big difference.

“All of this points to potentially significant benefits in extreme weather conditions, whether it be flooding or drought,” he said.