New wetland habitat thriving in Buckinghamshire
As part of the international celebration of World Wetlands Day, February 2nd, local groups are making a remarkable contribution to helping wildlife thrive along the River Thames in Buckinghamshire – and showing what can be achieved when partners work together.
A total of 32 hectares of low-biodiversity floodplain has been converted thanks to the creation of new wetlands along the river – first on land in Eythrope owned and managed by the Waddesdon Estate, and followed by Manor Farm in Chearsley.
With a £360,450 water environment grant from the Environment Agency and expertise from Freshwater Habitats Trust at the Eythrope site, the River Thame Conservation Trust undertook its first wetland and backwater development – and the largest it has ever commissioned.
Work on site at Eythrope Wetland began two years ago with the excavation of more than 11,000 square meters of contaminated topsoil to clear the way for the creation of new wetlands on the 10 hectare site.
In addition to a backwater – a large pond connected to the river where young fish can safely grow to maturity – the project also created a variety of shapes and sizes of pools and striations or depressions in the ground that can fill with water . All of these traits encourage species of plants, insects, and animals that thrive in wetlands.
The success of the project is reflected in the wide variety of species recorded at the site since its conversion. Regular surveys record excellent fish and bird populations, with 122 different bird species using the wetland habitat in 2021, including teal, lapwing and ringed plover, among others.
Eythrope Wetland is an important wetland bird habitat and an important stepping stone between two other wetland bird habitats in Buckinghamshire, near Aylesbury and Waterstock.
While the Environment Agency supports many partnership projects to improve the local water environment, the site is the first of its kind in the Thames River Basin.
The Environment Agency’s project manager, Anita Appleby, said:
The Environment Agency works hard to protect and enhance wetland habitats to benefit people and nature. Together with our partners we hope that Eythrope Wetland will become a place that demonstrates what can be achieved on a once species-poor floodplain.
We also hope that the success of the project will result in Eythrope Wetland being designated a local wildlife sanctuary in 2023.
To help us adapt to a changing climate, the Environment Agency is also investing £120m to replace and restore coastal habitats that will be lost to rising sea levels. The new habitat created as part of the program not only improves coastal biodiversity, but also acts as a carbon sink and can provide natural flood and coastal protection.
Hilary Phillips, Senior Project Officer at the River Thame Conservation Trust said:
The Eythrope Wetland project, completed in 2020, was an important milestone for us as a small, grassroots charity committed to providing a river basin with healthy fresh water and wildlife. It was the largest floodplain restoration project we had ever undertaken and the first of its kind in the Thames River Basin.
We were able to transform a 10-hectare low-biodiversity meadow into a thriving mosaic of scratches and ponds to create a diverse wetland complex.
Hannah Worker, Senior Project Officer at Freshwater Habitats Trust said:
Although the project represents a new and innovative approach to creating wetlands, it is actually a fairly simple concept. We know that freshwater wildlife needs a variety of water bodies, so by creating a complex of different ponds and pools of clean water, we can support a wider range of species.
Through collaborative projects like this, we work with partners to build the Freshwater Network, a national network of wilder, cleaner and more connected freshwater bodies to reverse the decline in freshwater biodiversity.
The success of Eythrope Wetland inspired similar work which took place earlier this year at Manor Farm in Chearsley, where a backwater was again created along the River Thames together with ditches and ponds to create a wetland complex. While it is too early for the site to show results on the scale of Eythrope Wetland, it is hoped and expected that it will develop in a similar fashion.
World Wetlands Day, celebrated annually on February 2, aims to raise global awareness of the vital role wetlands play for people and the planet. This day also marks the date of the passage of the Wetlands Convention on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar.
Almost 90% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 17th century, and we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests. However, wetlands are critical ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate change mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, global economy, and more. For more information, visit: https://www.worldwetlandsday.org.