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The term wetlands, where water and land meet, covers an extremely important range of habitats. The habitats are important for numerous reasons, including the provision and regulation of water as well as supporting a rich variety of flora and fauna. Wetlands are some of the most biologically diverse habitats yet are degrading and depleting at a faster rate than other ecosystems. This impacts not just the species reliant on wetlands but also other habitats in the surrounding areas.
The correct management of wetlands is therefore vital. The sections and links below provide further advice on wetland management.
RAMSAR - the RAMSAR convention seeks to promote conservation and wise use of wetlands on an international level
Reedbeds are wetland areas dominated by the common reed (Phragmites australis). Threats to reedbeds include loss of habitat through drainage and land conversion, pollution and incorrect management. Water levels need to be correctly maintained at a stable and high level to avoid complete drying out or rising levels, although some dryer areas help contribute to the habitat mosaic that is required within a reedbed. Structural heterogeneity is also important and reedbed cutting should therefore be done on rotation to provide all stages of succession. Reed litter should be left in some areas and removed in others, with some left as habitat piles.
There are many different types of pond - temporary ponds, permanent ponds, seasonal ponds, ponds found in different habitats, those that are man-made and those that occur naturally. Many naturally occurring ponds will require little or no management. Before any management work takes place, monitoring and surveying should be carried out so that the condition of the pond and the species within it are known. If species such as Great Crested Newts are present then this will effect management plans. Trees and branches should not automatically be cleared from ponds unless there are health and safety implications, as deadwood in ponds provides shelter and breeding grounds for amphibians and invertebrates such as dragonflies. Silt can be removed from ponds but the disposal of the silt needs to be carefully considered. Drawdown zones are a key element of ponds and should be carefully managed.
Pond Conservation provide information on all aspects of pond management and creation.
'Rivers' covers a wide range of types including the existing BAP priority habitat of chalk rivers. Most river systems change hugely in character as they flow from their source and the ecological characteristics are influenced by a number of factors including substrate, gradient, geology and of course human activity. As a consequence, the plant and animal assemblages vary accordingly. A number of elements of a river are important including the bankside and marginal vegetation, which acts as habitat itself for a range of species, acts as a corridor for species migration and supports a range of river processes.
The Environment Agency can provide further information, including a survey on the state of river habitats conducted from 2006-2008.
Eutrophic Water Systems
Characterised by plentiful plant nutrients, eutrophic water systems are highly productive due to this enrichment. In mid-summer the water bodies have dense, long-term populations of algae whic often turn the water green. Their beds are rich in organic matter due to a covering of anaerobic mud. Threats include water abstraction and land-use changes, as well as recreational pressures, fish stock manipulation and the introduction of non-native species. Pollution and habitat isolation or loss are also threatening this habitat.
Over management should be avoided as all successional stages provide important habitat, it should therefore be carried out with a view to maintaining the natural processes. Water levels and quality should be maintained. Small scale rotational management should be adopted for reasons such as scrub management, maintaining natural bank profiles and temporary pools. Grazing can be used at sites where it is part of the historical management but should be light and recreational disturbance should be kept to a minimum.
Mesotrophic lakes are characterised by their narrow range of nutrients and are an increasingly rare type of lake. They often have clear water but also contain many submerged and emergent plants. Threats include nutrient enrichment and water-borne sediment increase from soil erosion as well as water abstraction and pressures from recreation such as water-borne traffic and fisheries management. Management should focus on maintenance of water levels and minimising nutrient inputs. A mosaic of habitats including bare ground, marginal, emergent and bankside vegetation should be maintained on a rotational basis so as to ensure a continuity of habitat.
The UK is thought to host most of the surviving fen found in the EU. They are minerotrophic peatlands, receiving nutrients and water from rainfall, rock, soil and ground water. In terms of biodiversity, fen habitats support a wide range of plant and animal species including numerous dragonfly species and a range of aquatic beetles.
Threats to fen habitat include water abstraction, drainage for agricultural conversion and poor management. Correct management should focus on maintenance of water quality and water levels, preventing scrub encroachment whilst retaining areas of carr (wet woodland) and creating a structural diversity of different sward heights, areas of partial shade and all successional stages from bare peat to areas with a deep litter layer. Any cutting should be managed on rotation, unless an annual cut is part of the traditional management for a particular site. Cuttings should be removed from site, or piled at the fen margins. Grazing is also a management technique that can be used, although excessive trampling and high dung inputs can be a problem of overgrazing. Rotational grazing can help reduce these issues.
Managers of fen habitats can investigate funding opportunities from Natural England stewardship schemes.
Other wetland areas are also important for wildlife, see below for links relevant to particular species
Water Vole Recovery Project - Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT)