World Wetlands Day 2020
Each year on World Wetlands Day various groups including government agencies, non-governmental organisations and community groups organise events aimed at raising awareness of the value of wetlands.
The theme for World Wetlands Day 2020 was Wetland Biodiversity: Why it matters. This was an opportunity to share and raise awareness of the valuable ecosystem services provided by wetland biodiversity.
A wetland is an area of land that is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands can be freshwater, brackish (partly salty), or saline (very salty).
These are fragile but highly productive areas providing a range of important ecological and hydrological functions. As well as supporting diverse habitats for plants and animals, they also act as water purifiers and play a vital role in flood control and climate change mitigation.
Due to ample rainfall, Ireland has a wide range of inland wetlands, including marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, turloughs, salt marshes, estuaries, lagoons and wet woodlands. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that wetlands are wasted land, despite their environmental, societal and economic value. Wetlands are threatened by numerous activities on land such as drainage, infilling, development and pollution. To preserve these valuable habitats, we need to continue to share and exchange local and scientific knowledge to improve decision making on how we manage wetlands as communities connected by water.
World Wetlands Day occurs annually on 2nd February, marking the date of the adoption of the international Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in the city of Ramsar, Iran. The Ramsar Convention obliges signatories to protect wetlands of international importance, with 2,331 such sites internationally. The Irish Ramsar Wetlands Committee was established by the Government to assist Ireland in meeting its requirements as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention. There are 45 sites in the Republic of Ireland.
The Local Authority Waters Programme – working with wetland communities
World Wetlands Day is an ideal time for Community Water Officers to connect with new and existing groups who are interested in learning more about wetlands and the valuable services they provide for their catchment including water retention, water purification and sediment capture. It is also a time to go out and explore local wetlands by joining the many guided walks on offer. Events provide space for reflection on the ecological, socio-cultural and economic value of wetlands as well as supporting network development and discussion on future projects to protect these undervalued habitats.
Mohill, Co. Leitrim
Brendan Kirwan from Wetland Surveys Ireland gave a talk on the recent survey of wetlands in County Leitrim which was commissioned by Leitrim County Council.
The survey aimed to identify all wetland areas in the county to better inform land use planning and sustainable development strategies for the county. The County has wetland habitats ranging from raised and blanket bogs, fens, marshes, rivers and associated floodplains, lakes, springs, turloughs, and wet woodlands.
This study found that larger lakes, blanket bog and wet heath areas dominated the northern half of the county, with smaller raised bogs and other discrete wetland sites occurring more frequently in the southern half. It is estimated that 23.5% of county Leitrim is covered in wetlands with a total surface area of approximately 375km2.
Copies of the booklet ‘Celebrating County Leitrim’s Wetland Wealth’ and the latest edition of the Catchments Newsletter were also available on the day. Afterwards the Heritage Officer, Sarah Malone and Community Water Officer, Karen Kennedy facilitated a discussion on future community engagement activities. Most people expressed an interest in networking events and the opportunity to learn more about these valuable habitats.
In County Roscommon, Community Water Officers, Catherine Seale-Duggan and Karen Kennedy in conjunction with the Heritage Office of Roscommon County Council facilitated two walks with local community groups to explore the many habitats found in wetlands.
On Saturday, 1st February people met at Ballyleague Marina for a walk along the shores of Lough Ree on both sides of the lake as it joins with the River Shannon. This event was hosted by Ballyleague and Lanesborough Tidy Towns.
On Sunday 2nd February there was another opportunity to walk along the shore of Lough Ree with an event hosted by Portrunny Development Associatio at Portrunny Harbour. Later in the afternoon, along by the River Suck Callows, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Birdwatch Ireland and the Suck Valley Way Development Cooperative held a wildlife watching event just outside the Visitor Centre in Athleague.
Roscommon is a rich wildlife habitat and it is particularly noted for its wonderful wetlands such as callows, lakes, bogs and turloughs. Sincere thanks to Heritage Officer, Nollaig Feeney and her team in Roscommon County Council who organise events every year for World Wetlands Day.
Cabragh Wetlands, Co. Tipperary
The Cabragh event celebrated both St. Bridget’s Day and World Wetlands Day. The event, led by Michael Long, was organised by the Cabragh Wetlands Trust and was an overwhelming success attracting a very large crowd.
The invitation was to the Cabragh Wetlands Centre Think Tank. The event was designed as an opportunity to map out how best local communities and individuals can respond to the environmental crisis. It focused on the role of wetlands in terms of the protection of habitats, biodiversity and as a means to combat the impact of climate change. It included a walk around the Cabragh Wetlands Centre and the extremely impressive Cosmic Walk.
It was followed by a Think Tank on how the Cabragh Wetlands Trust helps communities normalise their interaction with nature and get people out of their normal space, with talk about how a shared understanding of our place in the cosmic story is critical. Without having a connection with nature we can suffer from nature deficit disorder.
The general public is generally not aware of the role and importance of wetlands – that the story of Cabragh wetlands is one of recovery. The Think Tank noted that to address the climate crisis we need to find ways of listening more closely to younger generations, support organic agriculture and focus on policy change, especially in relation to CAP reform.
The discussions also reflected on how economics needs to serve and protect our environment and not the other way around – but to achieve this that politicians needed to be persuaded of the urgency and critical importance of addressing the current environmental crisis.
On Sunday 2nd February members of the local community braved the bitter wind and stinging rain to take part in a walk along Quanns and Western Bay to observe various birds and wildlife around the wetlands of Dungarvan Harbour. The walk was organised by West Waterford Eco Group (WWEG) and Waterford City and County Council. John A. Power, John Joe Cahill, Fran O’Connell and other wildlife enthusiasts from WWEG provided scopes and binoculars to view the numerous waders, divers and Brent Geese.
Shannon Town Community Wetlands, Co. Clare
The Co. Clare event was a celebration of World Wetlands Day on the site of the Shannon Town Community Wetlands Project. Themed ‘Wetland Biodiversity: Why it matters’ the well-attended event jointly organised by LAWPRO and Duchas na Sionna unpacked why wetlands are important for all of us and for the biodiversity around us.
The event, which was led by Ruairí Ó Conchúir, highlighted the critical role that wetlands play in improving water quality and for water management within a catchment, or subcatchment. The key role play by wetlands in flood mitigation and as major carbon sinks was also highlighted. Most significantly, in the context of Shannon Town Community Wetlands Project the role of wetlands as an increasingly rare habitat type and its in protecting a vitally important local native flora and fauna.
The Shannon Project in Shannon Town is making the connection between wetlands as an importance refuge not just for wildlife but for our own health and well-being. The wetland site, together with the new town park, offers the opportunity for a positive engagement with nature for local communities, with recreational trails and nature-based activities. The event took place in very poor weather conditions but included a site visit focused on wetland biodiversity, a site clean-up and the removal of invasive plant species on site.