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Wetlands’ vital role in flood protection: Science Forum

Greater recognition needs to be given to the vital role of natural wetlands in reducing the risk and severity of major floods, according to speakers at a major science forum this week.

Increased public and private funding and closer cooperation between scientists, landowners, local communities and regulators would all be essential to protect individuals and communities in coming years, experts at the Winton Wetlands Science Forum 2022 heard.

Speaking outside the forum, event organiser and wetlands ecologist Lance Lloyd said there was a consensus amongst most at the forum that resources for wetlands protection and restoration needed to be stepped up.

“We’ve all been impressed at the forum to get updates about a range of fantastic projects that are under way to preserve and restore wetlands in different locations, supported by different organisations and funding sources – but we also know so much more can be done given the right resourcing and cooperation levels,” Mr Lloyd said.

“The fact that so many people working in the field are willing to come together this week and share their knowledge and the lessons being learned is a very heartening step along the way.”

Mr Lloyd said more people were becoming aware that wetlands brought benefits that went beyond the pure environmental benefits – important as these were. They also helped protect lives, livelihoods and potentially whole communities by acting as giant natural ‘sponges’ along watercourses which would otherwise concentrate their water flows in much narrower ways, which may cause major flooding.

This was on top of their role in preserving native plant and animal species, insects and other forms of life which all had a role to play in maintaining an environment safe and healthy for humans to live in.

Excessive drainage and degradation of wetlands for urban development, combined with climate change and other factors, together posed very real dangers to “human habitat” in the years ahead.

Key themes and topics which emerged at this week’s two-day wetland science forum included:

  • The value of developing strong “communities of practice” amongst scientists and practitioners working on restoration projects
  • The importance of taking science-based and evidence-based approaches at all times
  • The need for cooperation across groups to achieve ‘landscape-wide’ action that can extend beyond isolated individual projects
  • The potential to get more done, in less time, through streamlining of some government approval, monitoring and funding processes

“Most of all, I think there was strong recognition at this week’s Forum of the importance of building effective partnerships of all kinds, particularly at the local level between landholders and other parties who have best knowledge of the landscape and a shared commitment to keeping it in good health. There must be genuine respect to work together on all sides.”

(The Science Forum received sponsorship from Foe, a movie production company currently making a feature film of the same name partly on-site at Winton Wetlands, on behalf of Amazon, for worldwide distribution.)