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Wetlands answer to climate change

PUBLISHED: 09:09 28 November 2008 | UPDATED: 10:48 12 July 2010

Creation of more wetland areas will help us to live with climate change, storing water to reduce the impact of future floods, according to one of Britain's finest nature writers.

Creation of more wetland areas will help us to live with climate change, storing water to reduce the impact of future floods, according to one of Britain's finest nature writers.

Richard Mabey, who lives near Diss, suggests in the latest edition of Countryside Voice - the magazine of the Campaign to Protect Rural England - that following the second wet summer in succession, we urgently need to find a more harmonious way of dealing with rainwater.

Water is already a scarce resource in many parts of the world and the forecasts of climate change scientists are that East Anglia - already the UK's driest region - will become even more parched during hotter summers of the future.

Yet the recent experience - in this region and elsewhere - is of wetter summers, punctuated by flooding in some areas.

The floods of June and November 2007 caused an estimated £3billion worth of damage, not just in built-up areas.

The Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire - created as a “floodwater sink” to protect nearby towns and agricultural land - have recently been underwater for the whole year and now need their own overflow land, Mr Mabey suggests.

Our instinct to try to get rid of surplus water as quickly as possible is aggravating the problem, he writes.

“It is scurried off arable lands by under-field pipes and deep ditching. It is shunted through low-lying towns in narrow, high-banked channels. It is deflected by car parks, roads and ill-considered housing developments.

“When the rainfall becomes consistently greater than was assumed by short-sighted planners, no wonder it becomes high energy, feral wild water, breaking banks and flooding fields and settlements alike,” Mr Mabey writes.

“As another wet summer draws to a close we urgently need to find a more harmonious way of dealing with rainwater because the signs are that we're going to have a good deal more of it in future. On the strength of the last five years, Britain's immediate legacy of climate change looks like being not Mediterranean sunshine but greatly increased summer rainfall.”

Mr Mabey suggests that the safest and most reliable way of dealing with heavy rains and the ensuing floodwaters is to store them, not move them on.

“The deep and complex structure of the soil beneath old meadows and pastures - the kind that used to be common in floodplains - can absorb more than six times the volume of water as arable land. Probably ten times the volume if the croplands are impacted and mole-drained.

“Add reedbeds, peat fens, flashes and lagoons and you have a system capable of soaking up and holding immense quantities,” he writes

He adds: “Wetlands are huge assets in the landscape in other ways too as ecosystems and recreational areas.

“The restoration of old ones and the creation of new has to be one of our top priorities as we try to live with climate change as well as slow it down.”

Mr Mabey gives his support to the Great Fen project which aims to re-create a vast area of fenland in Cambridgeshire.

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