Urgent appeal to help Yorkshire’s wetlands and wildlife in the face of climate change

by Editorial Team
Published: Last Updated on

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s wetland reserves provided a significant lifeline for wildlife this summer as drier and hotter weather led to more wildlife seeking refuge. Wetlands are our most important reserves for wildlife habitat – providing open water, reed and willow margins, mudbanks, and links to open countryside and woodland.

NORTH CAVE WETLANDS RESERVE © John Potter

This year the Trust saw a higher number of unusual wildlife visitors on reserves. This included rare black-winged stilts which bred at the Trust’s Potteric Carr reserve, a first for northern England and much to the delight of wildlife watchers.

The Trust believes new species like stilts, as well as other visitors including glossy ibises, spoonbill and spotted crake, are likely to be seen more frequently in the coming years as they move north in the search for new feeding and breeding sites. These new species need to be accommodated alongside existing and often rare or at-risk wildlife species.

  • Potteric Carr in Doncaster recorded just over a third of the UK’s dragonfly and damselfly species, including the willow emerald dragonfly for the first time. The reserve is also home to 902 species of moth, and 20% of Yorkshire’s breeding bitterns.
  • Characteristic spoonbills have been a more common sight at Potteric Carr this summer. They are also a more frequent annual visitor to the Trust’s reserve at Kilnsea Wetlands at Spurn.
  • Glossy ibis are a rare visitor to the UK but have been spotted this summer on several Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserves including Wheldrake Ings, Ripon City Wetlands and Staveley, near Boroughbridge.
  • Wheldrake Ings floodplain near York is one of the key national sites for shovelers, garganeys and curlews, as well as hosting 50% of the UK breeding population of spotted crake. Osprey have also been spotted there on their migration south in the last week. It’s been a good year too for breeding numbers of very rare willow tit.  
  • 2% of the UK’s avocets breed at North Cave Wetlands near Hull, alongside one of Yorkshire’s biggest sand martin colonies.
  • Wetlands also provide a key habitat for endangered and protected species like great-crested newts, and water voles, which have also declined by 90% in the last 70 years.

However, wetlands are vanishing at an astounding rate: the UK has lost 90% of its wetland habitat through drainage and building works in the last 100 years. The more fragmented our remaining wetlands become, the higher the risk is of it drying out and becoming irrecoverable.

Launching the Trust’s Wilder Wetlands campaign today, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive Rachael Bice said; “Wetlands are incredible for biodiversity – and support more creatures than other type of habitat. They are home to some of our much-loved wildlife throughout the year and offer a lifeline to new species moving north in search of cooler conditions. They play an essential role in the ecosystems we rely on but are becoming increasingly vulnerable as climate change alters rainfall patterns.”

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Wheldrake Ings reserve sits in the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve and work closely with Natural England who work across the wider protected area. The reserve and wider area floods and stores water in the winter, providing a home for wintering flocks of geese, ducks and wading birds.

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, added;

“During the last 100 years, the UK has lost 90% of its wetlands. This has led to the drastic decline of wildlife and rendered the country more vulnerable to the effects of extreme conditions. Draining fens, desiccating peat bogs, drying floodplains and the claiming of coastal marshes has transformed how our land looks and works. Restoring some of those wetlands could deliver huge benefits for both people and wildlife.”

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is the county’s leading wildlife charity and has been protecting and restoring wetland habitats for over 75 years for wildlife, for people to enjoy and to help manage the impacts of a changing climate.

The Trust cares for 25 wetland sites across the county but they are the Trust’s most challenging reserves where water levels can be adjusted and specialist equipment and support is needed. Lake margins need to be maintained to provide habitat and prevent reserves from drying out. It costs over a £100,000 every year to ensure these unique and vital places remain protected and open for people to enjoy. The Trust is asking for support via www.ywt.org.uk/wilder-wetlands

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