When a blue view is good for you

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By Jamie Wyver

World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2020 is an international celebration of the planet’s marshes, peat bogs, reedbeds and estuaries. These special places have, for centuries, provided people with water, food, fuel, and building materials – and they’re essential in combating the climate emergency.

But they’re also spaces to explore, exercise, and enjoy  places that are particularly important in giving us space to breathe. And the positive impact they can have our health is becoming increasingly clear. 

Being near wetlands has been shown to be good for our physical and mental wellbeing. They offer an opportunity for recreation. That could be something very active like waterskiing, but for most of us it might just be a chance for a walk in beautiful surroundings. Although large water bodies are often called ‘blue spaces’, they can actually put us in a good mood. Recent WWT research shows that visits to wetlands could be used to manage anxiety and depression. One of the reasons suggested was that, for those taking part in the study, the wetland took them away from their everyday environments, allowing them space and time to relax. 

Finding calm in nature

Strolling around a wetland can be a very calming experience. Perhaps it’s the sense of tranquillity we get when we look out over a peaceful expanse of water, with reed heads gently nodding in the breeze, that lifts us. Or the pleasure of seeing the nature that inhabits these spaces such as waterbirds and dragonflies. If you want to go somewhere that’s splashing, paddling and buzzing with life, a wetland is an excellent choice. 

A view across marshland under blue cloudy skies, with a body of still water and some birds in the distance
A view over the wetlands at RSPB Titchwell Marsh | Jamie Wyver

In fact, wetlands and biodiversity are the themes of the 2020 World Wetlands Day. In February, our wetlands will be alive with ducks, geese and swans. Many are visiting us for the winter and will fly north to nest in a few weeks’ time. The ducks are in their smartest breeding plumage at this time of year, too, so it’s well worth the effort heading out to look for them. For example, there are shovelers, with their glossy dark green heads and chestnut sides, stirring up the water to dabble for insects with their extraordinary beaks. Wigeon, which prefer nibbling grass beside the water, can be heard whistling to one another, and the tiny teal, the smallest duck we see, bobs at the water’s edge. 

Rare finds

You may even be lucky enough to see some more elusive wetland residents such as bitterns or otters. Both of these water specialists have made a comeback thanks to better legal protection, cleaned-up waterways and new reedbeds. Bitterns are the incredibly well-camouflaged relative of the more familiar grey heron. With a streaked pattern of black and brown feathers, they blend in perfectly with the reeds around them. It’s hoped that the resurgence of the otter population may help drive down numbers of the American mink that have driven water voles to the brink of being lost from our rivers. 

A brown, speckled wading bird with long legs and a bright bill stands in damp mud
Wetlands lend themselves to some mindful looking. Look out for these easy-to-miss Water Rail hiding in the reedbeds.

Carbon capture

As well as giving us these obvious visible highlights, wetlands are quietly getting on with the business of making our world a better place to live in. They’re crucial in fighting the climate crisis: the world’s healthiest peatlands keep twice as much carbon locked away as all of earth’s forests. They soak up excess water, reducing the risk of flooding for many communities. 

So why not visit a wetland this month, and enjoy the variety of life that makes its home in these watery oases?

RSPB Fowlmere wetlands in Cambridgeshire Jamie Wyver