Good morning and a very Warm Welcome to everyone to our First Sussex Wetlands Conference its fantastic to see so many people here today who are interest ed in water and wetlands We have some very interesting and inspiring speakers lined up today but before I leave you in their capable hands I would just like to give you a brief introduction to the uniqueness and value of water and of our wetlands in Sussex
We live on a unique planet which is the only planet in our solar system which has water visible on its surface. Not only that but this water covers over 70% of the earths surface However, only 0.01% of the water on the earth is generally thought to be available for use by humans and other species The rest is tied up in oceans, glaciers, clouds, underground reservoirs etc So freshwater is globally a very precious and limited resource
We are therefore in the unique position that for the (roughly) 3-4 million years that water has been present on the earths surface , it has been one of the major forces shaping our landscape s in all its different forms from ice to steam be that through the slow erosional drip of water on rock, or the isostatic uplift of the earths crust caused by the melting of glaciers.
Water is a crucial and precious resource , it is the lifeblood of the landscape and There is almost no life form on earth which can survive without it . Around 60% of the bodyweight of everyone in this room is made up of water
Because we have clean water which is readily piped to our taps in any quantity we want, we have become increasingly complacent about the value of water We tend to forget is that everything we do and everything we use from day to day has an impact on our water resources. A number of people have been trying to estimate the overall cost in water of many of the things we make and buildThe calculated water footprint of making a car before you put the screenwash in has been calculated as 400 000 litres, and every KwHr of electricity requires around 170l of water to produce. The average daily water consumption of someone living in the South East is 160 litres per day , or roughly one tonne per week. When consumer activities are taken into account this daily water footprint rises to around 3400 l of water per day (23 tonnes per week) In the South East, we generally consume more water per person than we are able to restore into our environment , which means that we are actually living in an area which is more water stressed than many more arid countries which in Europe such as Turkey
Since the industrial revolution and post second world war, our abuses of our water resources have also mushroomed And the majority of our water resources have been heavily modified and impacted by man through abstraction, drainage, pollution etc
Humans have always relied on the wetland environment for the countless ecosystem services it provides us with, but until recently, those services which were difficult to quantify at the landscape or global level and were often left unacknowledged and undervalued More recently we have been able to quantify and express the value of wetland ecosystem services such as flood storage, water purification, to food and mental wellbeing, and to start considering how we can better manage our wetland landscapes to accommodate these services. With some of the bigger landscape challenges we are facing such as climate change , we are being forced to reconsider how we manage the interactions between people and our different landscapes So, for example, if further sea level rise occurs we will have to make serious decisions about whether we accede land back to the marine environment or whether we try and sustain artificially protected freshwater coastal wetlands
Wetlands as environmental systems are hugely nutrient rich and biodiverse areas carrying huge biomasses of flora and fauna, and supplying vast amounts of the worlds food We have also come to recognise that wetlands such as peat bogs play an essential role in carbon storage and regulating our climate
The physical embodiement of where water meets the landscape is what we have widely come to know as wetlands. This is a very broad term whihch seems to cover more or less everything from a puddle to an ocean. Often in the past we have damaged and drained the small puddles, and protected the large areas, but we are now beginning to realise that perhaps the puddles and ephemeral ponds are the exact things which help to create an intricate ecological network of wetlands through the landscape , and that they are intrinsic to many wildlife species being able to migrate between drier patches of the landscape
So increasingly we are realising that the cumulative damage we have inflicted on our wetland landscapes is unsustainable Huge efforts have already been made to try and reverse some of this damage. Improvements in water quality in our rivers over the last 40 years have been dramatic. And Legislation such as the European water framework directive is now obliging us to try and resolve many of the conflicts of interest which occur Unfortunately , like many things, because wetlands were always assumed to be widespread and common, there is very little baseline information now available to the exact extent or nature of these losses.
A number of organisations present today, having realised the damage that many habitats including wetland have sustained, have been trying to determine the status and extent of priority wetland habitats in Sussex Collectively what remains is extremely fragmented and found in scattered, small patches Reedbeds are wet habitats, dominated by Common reed, a perennial and flood-tolerant grass that grows to over 2m height. Reedbed has been categorised as any wetland area with > 60% cover of reed and/or which is considered to be in the NVC category S4 (Reed Swamp, generally permanently waterlogged with a summer surface level of around 20 cm). 0.0006 % of the Sussex land area Previous extent thought to be over 1400 ha
It is a sobering thought that There are few large sites which have the carrying capacity to maintain critical masses of many wetland species A question mark remained as to whether these figure for Sussex fen and reedbed were an underestimate due to under-recording, or a true reflection of the true resource. The results of NVC surveys of 1000 ha of the Arun valley indicate that under-recording may contribute to the ‘lack’ of fen in the County, but that conversely the overall picture we have of the Sussex reedbed resource may be relatively accurate. A fen is a wetland that receives water and nutrients from surface run-off and/or groundwater supplies, as well as from rainfall. Fens are generally characterised by high soil water levels which are often peat forming (McBride et al, 2011). There are two major fen types:- Topogenous (alluvial) fens where vertical (groundwater) water table fluctuations dominate due to impeded drainage, and Soligenous fens (rain and run off fed) where horizontal water movement across a site and through soils dominate Fens can also be divided into Rich and Poor fen categories:- Poor fens Poor fens grow in water derived from base-poor rock (such as sandstones and granites), mainly in the uplands, or on lowland heaths. Characterised by short vegetation with a high proportion of bog mosses Sphagnum spp. and acid water (pH of 5 or less). Rich fens Rich fens are fed by mineral-enriched calcareous waters (pH 5 or more), mainly confined to the lowlands and where there are localised occurrences of base-rich rocks such as chalk. Less than 0.0003 % of the land area of County
23 ancient floodplain woodlands over 5 ha in size, eight over 10 ha Large ancient woodland complexes - West Weald and High Weald. This rare habitat type is a unique landscape feature of this part of Sussex and the UK, applying to the unique woodland type found in the Sandstone and Hastings beds of the High Weald. There is as yet no official definition of where a ghyll woodland ends and a floodplain woodland starts
Cumulatively, these coastal habitats actually make up an important percentage of the overall wetland resource No other estuary in Sussex larger than 400 ha Much saltmarsh in Sussex is of recent origin formed since the rapid spread of common cord-grass Spartina anglica in the first half of this century.
Which means they are either heavily modified by man Obstructed Of Biologically or chemically poor quality Polluted Overabstracted Or affected by invasive alien species
Ponds actually comprise a significant boost to the wetland resource in Sussex but it is only through recent efforts by the Ponds Conservation Trust and local v olunteers that we are starting to have an idea of the biodiversity value of these ponds, or of the individual contributions they make to the value of the wetland landscape network
CFGM is one of our biggest wetland resources in Sussex. Its definition is however, that it is grassland occurring in the floodplain which is intersected by ditches. It is therefore a predominantly man-made habitat, with artificial drains which limit the wetland interest to the drains which often hold the most wildlife value. For wet grassland habitats there is again very little accurate mapping or survey information Where is it relatively natural, species poor floodplain grasslands and habitats such as rush pasture have their own instrinsic value Under 200ha of Purple moor grass and Rush pasture 88 ha of the National Vegetation Classification MG11 & MG13 found in one section of Arun valley. If total England resource of these two rare inundation grassland types is still less than 3,000 ha, it is possible that Sussex holds a significant proportion of the British resource
For the ecosystem services that we are expecting them to support, we very obviously do not have enough wetlands to be able to sustain them in Sussex, nor many of the species which rely on them Even a 5% coverage of Sussex, which is far less than the 25% of historic coverage predicted by people such as Oliver Rackham is nearly 20,000 ha
Chalk-fed reedbed and woodlands Sandstone ghylls and Wealden ghyll’s Acid floodplain woodland And the potential is not limited to our intrinsically wet landscapes. Many of our heathlands have been gripped and drained under forestry conversions and there is huge potential to restore large areas of the wetland interest to these areas Indeed it could be argued that it is more important to restore the limited wetland interest of dryer landscape areas which have been drained, than it is to enhance existing wetted areas.
Where we know that 80% of our rivers, chalk streams, and coastal and floodplain grazing marsh are currently not in favourable ecological status, this therefore means that we have the potential for (where the potential for flooding in any one year is greater than or equal to 1% (i.e. a 100 to 1 chance) for river flooding and greater or equal to 0.5% ((i.e. a 200 to 1 chance) for coastal and tidal flooding)
There are many methods through which we can hope to restore the wetland ecological network of Sussex to its former health and splendour, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be hard work. Increasingly we are realising that there are often relatively simplistic (and much cheaper solutions) to wetland restoration if we work with the natural, dynamic processes already operating within these wetlands There are even occasions where species themselves are being used as engineers or restorers of wetlands and we will hear more about the potential of beavers later on!
Historically a lot of wetland restoration work has been reactive and targeted to the ‘easiest’ locations rather than to the areas which make the most significant difference to the overall ecological network By enabling more of our wetlands to be restored to areas where they would naturally occur in a landscape system , this restoration is much more effective in creating a more r obust landscape which is more adaptable to change and more dynamic in the long term. What is wonderful is that we now have the technology and the baseline data to accurately predict the best locations for a wide range of species and habitat restoration work. The maps above were created by excluding those areas which have no potential for the creation of the habitat, by overlaying soils, land levels hydrological and ecological information, and calculating the minimum distance between sites and the opportunities for maximising the area of habitat and overall connectivity between habitat areas It also highlights the vast differences in the areas likely to be available for the restoration of different wetland habitats
Currently under 3,000 ha of BAP priority habitats exist in the Arun and W Rother valleys. This model showed that around 31,000 ha of the catchment had some potential for the restoration of nine key wetland habitats This figure is staggering, and if translated to the rest of Sussex, implies that there is the potential for a minimum of 100,000 ha of wetland in Sussex.
So, we undoubtedly have the tools to be able to start considering wetland habitats at a landscape scale And Hopefully from some of the talks today you will see examples of where this knowledge and imagination has already been employed in creating viable solutions to some of the landscape scale issues we have in Sussex What we need to solve some of the bigger issues with our wetland is innovative and adaptive thinking
Hopefully it goes without saying that None of this can be done without including people, I know that the combined knowledge and expertise of everyone in this room has been the impetus for protecting and documenting what little remains of our wetland habitats in Sussex to date, and I don’t doubt that it will be what drives the future restoration of a viable ecological network to the Sussex landscape The fact remains however that it is us who have affected this landscape, and us who need to be talking to each other and to everyone else who lives and works in these landscapes to see if we can find mutually beneficial solutions to issues such as adaptation to climate change, drought, non native invasive species infestations and urban and rural flooding So this is where I return to the main purpose of today which is welcome you all, and to encourage you all to discuss at length the many ways in which we can work together to create a thriving wetland ecological network for Sussex. Thank you all for listening and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.
Water By Pablo Neruda Everything on the earth bristled, the bramble Pricked and the green thread Nibbled away, the petal fell, falling Until the only flower was the falling itself, Water is another matter, Has no direction but its own bright grace, Runs through all imaginable colours, Takes limpid lessons From stone, And in those functionings plays out The unrealised ambitions of the foam.
Water and Wetlands Working to create a Living Landscape
Picture of Earths Surface showing % global surface covered by water Working to create a Living Landscape
Images showing the way water has helped shaped our landscapes Working to create a Living Landscape
Water Footprints What is our daily per capita water use, and how does the use of manufacturing goods and fuels to create and transport energy alter that water footprint? Working to create a Living Landscape
Fen Area of Sussex fen roughly 92 ha 10% of the original Sussex fen estimate Largest single unit areas in Combe Haven and Pett level (one third each of the entire Sussex fen resource) 18 fen sites over 1 hectare Working to create a Living Landscape
Wet Woodland ASNW cover 11 % of Sussex (43,000 ha) Soil maps imply roughly 38 % of Sussex ASNW has wetland interest 570 ha of deciduous woodland found in frequently flooded zone 300 ha (0.004 % of Sussex ASNW) is ancient floodplain woodland Around 500 ancient floodplain woodland patches, mostly small Working to create a Living Landscape
Coastal Habitats Little known about marine habitats 405 hectares of Saltmarsh (BRANCH data), 92% in West Sussex + Rye Chichester Harbour largest saltmarsh in the South-East region 2,000 ha of coastal and estuarine Mudflat (BRANCH) Chichester Harbour (3,000 ha) is the only large estuary in the SE Region. Only 13 official Saline lagoon sites totalling under 65 ha Five not legally protected, Only three are considered ‘natural’ lagoons Pagham and Chichester Harbours are internationally important for wintering wildfowl populations BRANCH (Biodiversity Requires Adaptation in Northwest Europe under a CHanging climate) Working to create a Living Landscape
Rivers and Streams Unique geology hosting rare riverine habitats Over 135 km of chalk stream. Less than 20% deemed near natural Roughly 80 % of main rivers not achieving Good Ecological Status Working to create a Living Landscape
Ponds UK Ponds – estimated 75% loss this century At least 17,000 in Sussex (excluding garden and urban ponds) Little idea of biodiversity value or locations of priority ponds for wildlife Six of twelve Important Areas for Ponds in SE are in Sussex: Western Rother, Sussex Heaths, Ashdown, Newhaven, Pevensey and Winchelsea Working to create a Living Landscape
Wet Grasslands Coastal and Floodplain Grazing Marsh (CFPGM) 14,000 ha. Of 1000 ha surveyed in Arun 50% agriculturally improved, 30% species poor and 19% diverse (sometimes improved) inundation grassland. Species-rich floodplain meadow area unknown - > 97% lost in the UK Species-poor floodplain meadow area unknown Working to create a Living Landscape
Total Wetland Resource of Sussex + Ponds Working to create a Living Landscape 8,089 ha or 0.02 % of Sussex TOTAL Wetland Habitats 300 ha Ancient Floodplain Woodland ? 5,000 ha in good condition CFGM 65 ha Saline lagoons 233 ha Reedbed 92.3 Fen 1,993.4 Mud flat 405.3 ha Saltmarsh Current area in Sussex Habitat
Sussex Wetland Potential Sussex is 384,000 ha in area It has an frequently inundated floodplain of 39,000 ha Naturally wet soils of 159,000 ha (some overlap with floodplain) & roughly 10,000 Km of rivers and streams Working to create a Living Landscape