Redshank at Brownsea Island Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve, Dorset

How wetlands have changed

The RSPB helps wetland birds by making sure there is water of the right quality and quantity in the right place at the right time.

How wetlands are changing

Wildlife that relies on watery habitats is under great pressure. Land has been drained, developed and farmed intensively. Lots of water is taken for homes and industries.

Birds that were once a common sight in the lowlands, such as snipe and lapwings, no longer breed in many counties and are rare sights outside nature reserves.

Hills, downs and moorlands, where water would once collect and slowly flow into streams and rivers, have been cut by drains and eroded by the hoof and plough.

In valley bottoms, rivers have been straightened, deepened and confined within flood banks. This separates them from their floodplain wetlands, which are often drained, filled-in and built over.

Rivers and wetlands have become receptacles for pollution and have been sucked dry to provide for human use.

We cannot afford to continue like this – our climate is changing, and vulnerable resources and infrastructure will have to cope with drier summers and more violent storms.

An alternative vision

Working with nature and restoring wetlands could create habitats for wildlife while providing water collection and purifying services to society and wonderful places where people can relax and explore.

We have a team of people working on water management across the UK to promote this alternative vision. They are dedicated to securing a better future for the water and wetlands that people and wildlife depend on.

Providing us with drinking water could be cheaper if more money was invested in supporting water- and wildlife-friendly agriculture. There would be fewer pesticides and nitrates in the water, which are expensive to remove to create drinking water. Our wetlands would be less polluted and there would be less competition for clean water between people and their environment.

Managing our uplands and floodplains for the benefit of wildlife can retain water on the land. This can help reduce the risk of property flooding and improves the quality of water entering reservoirs.

Water-efficient homes can reduce household water-use by up to 50 per cent. They save people money and reduce the need to take water from rivers and underground aquifers which supply wetlands with water.

Efficient water-use reduces the need to develop expensive new sources of supply such as desalination, new boreholes and reservoirs. It can significantly cut energy bills and domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

We now understand that water services can be provided in ways which protect and restore wildlife, rather than pushing it to one side. We just need the will to make it happen.

Cattle grazing on floodplain grassland, Greylake RSPB reserve, Somerset Levels