Views across the marsh towards Benarty hill, Vane Farm RSPB reserve, Kinross, Scotland

What is the Wetland Vision?

The Wetland Vision report launched in 2008 presents opportunities for the conservation, restoration and creation of freshwater wetlands in England over 50 years.

What is the Wetland Vision?

Our vision is of a future in which wetlands form a significant feature of the landscape, where wildlife can flourish. Wetland heritage is recognised and safeguarded, and everyone can enjoy wetlands for quiet recreation and tranquillity.

Vitally, it will be a future where wetlands are valued because they help us deal with some of the challenges of the 21st century and they improve and sustain our quality of life.

This Wetland Vision is the product of a joint project between the Environment Agency, Natural England, English Heritage, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and National Parks supporting the steering group.

More than 300 people were involved in its development, representing a range of interests including nature conservation, the historic environment, flood risk management, farming and water quality.

The final report was launched in 2008 and presents opportunities for the conservation, restoration and creation of freshwater wetlands in England over the next 50 years.

Mapping wetlands

The most striking feature of the project is a series of maps showing our best estimate of the previous and current extent of wetlands, and where wetland creation could be most easily achieved with the greatest ecological benefits.

These maps underpin our shared vision where: 

  • In 50 years' time, freshwater wetlands will cover considerably larger areas than they do today and provide multiple benefits to people and society.
  • Wetlands will be more responsive to the natural processes which produce or support key habitats.
  • Constructed wetlands will play a much greater role in supporting wetland biodiversity.
  • Existing objectives for UK wetland Biodiversity Action Plan species and habitats will have been achieved. The health of the wetland Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Natura 2000 network will be secure.
  • Wetlands will be playing a key role in delivering Water Framework Directive objectives by trapping sediment and filtering out nutrients.
  • The vision provides planning, environmental and conservation organisations with a common understanding of the opportunities and constraints for newly created wetlands at a landscape scale.

In particular it shows the potential for the restoration of large areas of wetlands which would bring benefits by helping slow the movement of water through the landscape, trapping and treating pollutants, reducing flood peaks, trapping carbon and providing wild spaces for people to enjoy.

Wetland habitat created by the rotary ditcher in Oxfordshire

Why do we need a Wetland Vision?

  • 90 per cent of our wetlands have been lost since Roman times. 
  • Losses of wetland accelerated in the 20th century. For example, between 1930 and 1990, two thirds of grazing marsh were lost in the Thames Estuary. 
  • The waterlogged condition of wetlands preserves the fragile archaeological records of our past, but these records are currently being lost through desiccation and erosion. 
  • Between 1982 and 2002, bird numbers in floodplain wet grasslands in England and Wales have declined - curlews by 40 per cent, redshanks by 21 per cent, lapwings by 40 per cent and snipe by 61 per cent. 
  • The services provided by wetlands have been compromised. For example, 380 thousand tons of soil carbon are lost each year due to drainage of deep peat in the East Anglian Fens alone.
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, standing in shallow water, Geltsdale RSPB reserve, Cumbria

From vision to reality

Following the launch of the Wetland Vision in July 2008, Natural England made a commitment to provide £2 million annually to its implementation for three years.

In 2008-9, more than £2 million was spent on 15 projects, including support for schemes and project officers within the four priority landscape-scale target areas. These areas are: 

The East Anglian fens

The project is helping develop almost a square kilometre of new reedbed, fen and grazing marsh within the Norfolk Naturalist Trust’s Wissey 'Living Landscape' area (potentially greater than 10 square kilometres). 

The Humberhead levels

A series of linked projects within the Humberhead levels, including in Hatfield Moors, Went Ings (Burnet Trust), Lower Derwent Valley and Fishlake. More than one and a half square kilometres of wetland habitat are being created or restored. 

The Midlands Meres and Mosses

A series of projects to develop and link grazing marsh and restore raised bog.  

The Morecambe Bay wetlands

On the Cumbria/Lancashire coast, the focus here is on restoration of grazing marsh and lowland raised bog (eight square kilometres) within the Lyth valley, with co-ordination provided by a Natural England project officer.

In addition, Natural England has provided funding to support a number of nationally important schemes outside the four priority landscape areas.

These schemes represent part of a wider landscape scale approach to wildlife conservation that is being adopted through programmes such as Futurescapes, the Wildlife Trusts' Living Landscapes and the Integrated Biodiversity Delivery Areas being developed under the England Biodiversity Group.

The Environment Agency also plays an important role in creating wetland habitat, both in compensating for damage and loss due to flood risk management works and delivering Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) habitat. This work is co-ordinated through Regional Habitat Creation Programmes.