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Water Conference: Ecology – The science and conservation of wetland areas

This session looked at the importance of wetland ecosystems and the responsibility we have to understanding these systems and our own future.

Richard Lindsay from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of East London, discussed peatland ecosystems and how they are known as 'cinderella wetlands' because they are the great overlooked wetlands. Despite being invisible, peatlands globally contain three times the amount of carbon stored in the world's rainforests or vegetation combined. In the UK, they provide 70 per cent of all drinking water. Richard Lindsay's revealing and informative session, concluded by him saying that there is now a growing recognition of the contribution made by peatland habitats in the UK and globally, for example, the Scottish Government has now committed to restoring the Scottish Peatlands system. These efforts around the world are necessary to restore these systems fully as the price of not doing so has been highlighted, for example, by the 2014 winter floods in the UK.

Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Simon Read, discussed the relationship between being an artist, an academic and working with his community on coastal environments.

As a resident of 34 years on the River Deben Estuary in Suffolk, Simon mentioned the many opportunities he had to reflect as an artist and mariner upon estuarine and coastal systems in general and with specific reference, to the River Deben. He talked about the major tidal surge on the 6th December last year in the area, which created mayhem to old and new defences and flooded 80 acres of land.

Simon's close involvement with his community and work with the estuary's development has meant that as an artist, he has been influenced by the very real and devastating changes to the coastal environment. He has been drawn into the discussion over environmental change, how it is evident in the estuarine environment and how communities have adapted to it. As a result, he has also had to readdress the balance in his own life as an artist, academic and active member of the community.

Professor Graeme Evans, Professor in Design Cultures, talked about the 'hydrocitizenship' phenomenon based on recent and new research on coastal cities, such as Portsmouth and the Lower Lee Valley in east London. The project involves working with the Environment Agency and is led by art, design, social and environmental scientists. It looks at re-visioning and reconnecting communities through interconnected water issues, such as flooding, drought, biodiversity, water quality and climate change using art and humanities informed research ,methods.

Biodiversity officer, Richard Bullock, from the WWT London Wetland Centre examined the monitoring of wildlife at the London Wetland Centre and how it has developed from the initial stages to become the largest re-created urban wetland in Europe, possibly the world. The London Wetland Centre has been monitored for the past 17 years. Collected data provides information about population indices, with information about the quality and quantity aspects of species recorded on site. This later helps to inform conservation statutory agencies and NGOs regarding site designations or management plans.

Initially opened in 2000 by Sir David Attenborough, the Centre has over 200 species of wild birds and a broad spectrum of other species of wildlife including species of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, frogs and micro fungi. Richard mentioned that getting the balance right is key to the preservation of the Centre, as well as knowing what to conserve. The Centre has served as an inspiration for the Hong Kong Wetland Park, which opened in 2006 and has had over 2 million visitors.

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