By Mike Morecroft and Simon Duffield, Natural England
Wetlands occur where climatic and catchment factors combine to create suitable conditions. Human activity can modify a catchment area leading to a change in the characteristics of a wetland or its loss. Drainage of wetlands and canalisation of watercourses has resulted in the loss of wetlands, although more recently in some countries action to restore wetlands, including the reversal of earlier management has become more common.
A changing climate, with rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns presents a risk to many wetland habitats, but changing management offers the potential opportunity to reduce adverse impacts. For example, blocking drainage channels helps to maintain water within the wetland, introducing water control structures such as sluices allows a flexible approach to maintain the water level at the optimal level.
Reducing the risks climate change presents to natural and semi-natural habitats is becoming an important part of nature conservation, but to be effective it needs to be thoroughly integrated into broader management objectives. To do this it is essential that site managers have a basic understanding of climate change impacts and adaptation, and have access to the necessary resources to provide more detail. In Natural England, the government conservation body for England, a lot of the evidence and experience being developed on habitat management and climate change has been brought together into an ‘adaptation manual’, that provides information to support decision making.
It was also found that it is important that climate change adaptation is embedded within the decision-making structures of the organisation. Management plans for the national nature reserves that Natural England manages are reviewed every five years. When this happens the need for climate change adaptation is assessed and actions are identified.
A final important element of adaptation is monitoring so that the effectiveness of adaptation measures can be assessed and management improved on the basis of practical experience.
Image: Cover of climate change adaptation manual