Britain’s first wetland ‘super reserve’ – and why it’s so significant

Somerset’s ‘tremendous reserve’ is a boon for wildlife and the local weather, but additionally culturally important. Christian Dunn, senior lecturer in pure sciences at Bangor College, Wales, explains why

Wetlands are the superheroes of the pure world. They’re full of wildlife, shield our coastlines, preserve our rivers clear, and retailer climate-changing quantities of carbon.

But via a lot of historical past they’ve been at greatest ignored and at worst vilified and destroyed. In recent times public campaigns and cash have been thrown at tree planting and reforestation, but hardly a point out was given to restoring the UK’s bogs, swamps and marshes. However a fast scan via well-known literature, work and even movies and TV collection will present you the way typically wetlands characteristic because the disagreeable, sinister backdrop of darkish storylines.

Fortuitously, issues are actually altering. This was highlighted with the latest announcement of a 15,000-acre Somerset Wetlands national nature reserve. That is the UK’s second so-called “tremendous reserve” after Purbeck Heaths in Dorset. These reserves absorb a mosaic of various habitats, and by linking all of them collectively as a part of a whole panorama administration plan, it’s hoped the area as an entire will profit.

On this case, the brand new tremendous reserve will embody current reserves on Somerset’s ranges and moors, a area of coastal plains, fens, reedbeds and saltmarshes, which make up the guts of the county.

These areas are estimated to include round 11 million tonnes of carbon, within the type of peat: semi-decomposed useless plant materials. When peatlands dry out – maybe as a result of they’re drained to make farmland or when peat is extracted for compost – the vegetation decomposes quite a bit quicker, releasing carbon into the environment.

A lot of Somerset’s peat deposits have been broken over the centuries, and proceed to be so, releasing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gasses every year. Their safety as carbon sequestering powerhouses is crucial if the UK is to hit its internet zero targets within the coming a long time.


A map of the Somerset Ranges and Moors. Credit score: Nilfanion/Wiki

The saltmarshes on the sting of the brand new reserve are additionally carbon-dense habitats and may shield the shoreline throughout storms and sea stage rises. Then there’s the wildlife that teems on this space, from otters and kingfishers to eels and marsh fritillaries (considered one of Britain’s rarest butterflies).

Properly-preserved historical past

It’s not simply the environmental and pure advantages offered by the wetlands of the brand new tremendous reserve that make the mission so particular.

Britain’s historical past and heritage is tied up on this space and the acidic, waterlogged peatland circumstances means it’s uniquely preserved for us to find. For example the UK’s oldest wood walkway, the Candy Observe, was constructed 6,000 years in the past to assist Neolithic individuals cross the marshes. Because it was uncovered within the Seventies it has helped archaeologists perceive how these individuals lived.


Kingfishers are among the many wildlife set to learn from the creation of the ‘tremendous reserve’. Picture: Boris Smokrovic

It could additionally solely be a contact melodramatic to state that England as we all know it might not exist if it hadn’t been for the Somerset ranges and moors “fen-fastness” (as described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), providing King Alfred the refuge and battleground his small drive wanted when preventing the Vikings within the 800s. (Although whether or not he burnt some muffins within the course of is up for historical debate).

Giant-scale safety

It’s not simply the Somerset area that may see the advantages of the proposed landscape-scale administration plans – the whole nation can be richer. In fact, a number of the space is already underneath the supervision of conservation organisations and they’re doing an amazing job. However this mission goes past these particular person websites and brings all of them collectively on a bigger scale.

Correctly managed particular person nature reserves, it doesn’t matter what the scale, will be unbelievable. However it’s once we join-up these pockets and broaden them that we will actually begin to management waterflows, maximise biodiversity, scale back carbon emissions and improve our personal wellbeing. Certainly, analysis is exhibiting it’s at this scale that we will have a real impact and harness the potential of “nature-based options” which permit pure ecosystems to assist tackle the local weather and biodiversity disaster.

It’s not simply the Somerset area that may see the advantages – the whole nation can be richer

When these areas are massive sufficient and dominated by coastal and freshwater wetlands then the advantages are magnified, because it’s not only a landscape-scale being checked out, and even the seascape, however the “wholescape”.

This “wholescape” method have to be the way in which ahead if we’re critical about the usage of nature-based options this century. And nature’s superheroes — our wetlands – want tremendous nature reserves just like the one in Somerset to point out us simply what they’ll do.

This text is republished from The Dialog underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.

Major picture: RSPB Ham Wall nature resvere. Credit score: Nicholas Allan Innes

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