Our rivers, lakes and wetlands are vital habitats for many of the UK’s iconic wildlife species such as kingfishers and otters. Yet our efforts over the last 20 years to improve the quality of our aquatic habitats could be compromised. The EU is looking to review and potentially weaken the major legislation governing the improvement of water quality across Europe. It is down to us to say no, the health of our watery habitats and wildlife is important to us and legislation should not be weakened. This affects the UK regardless of Brexit. Many UK wetland bird species migrate across Europe so the health of European wetlands is as important to them as UK wetlands, in addition it is likely that should Europe weaken legislation the UK will follow suit.
Since 1970 over 50% of our freshwater and wetland species have declined, the short term outlook is similar. 132 species are categorised as threatened – that’s 13% of our wetland and freshwater species. Therefore action to improve the quality of our water is fundamental to helping reverse this decline amongst other actions.
The kingfisher is an excellent case in point, these stunning birds rely on a plentiful supply of good quality water. Poor water quality reduces the availability of food and can cause a build-up of toxic chemicals. Adults must catch about 5,000 fish such as minnows, tadpoles and aquatic insects during the summer months to feed a growing family.
The Water Framework Directive – this vital piece of EU legislation – not only requires member states to clean up water bodies, but to re-naturalise them, restore them and make sure that the amount taken from them is sustainable. This is also important for the kingfisher. Their prey species rely on sufficient quantities of water in order to survive. Kingfishers also need sufficient clear water in which to forage; they spot their prey from the surface and dive for it with their eyes closed. This is more difficult in dirty and shallow water.
Take one example - research has shown that populations of kingfisher and reed warbler are integrally linked to the amount of water within Tewinbury lagoon which is connected to the River Mimram, a chalk river in Hertfordshire. Its water levels are entirely dependent on the quantity of groundwater. Over thirty years of research has found linkages between these species and the amount of water in the river. For every one foot increase in river level, on average there are two more kingfisher chicks per adult seen fishing in the Tewinbury lagoon and 20 more reed warblers nesting.
The UK has spent significant amounts of money improving the health of our
aquatic habitats, to support species such as the kingfisher, let’s not let the
tide turn back. Together we can stop this from happening. The European
Commission wants your say through its public consultation. This is your chance to tell them to keep our laws on water strong. If we can do this then we will hopefully be able to do the same in the UK post Brexit. What happens now in the EU remains important and will influence what happens in the UK.
We’ve made it easy, we’ve prepared some answers which will best ensure the law is kept safe and strong. To send these to the commission on your behalf, please fill in your details and click ACT NOW.
Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer, WWT
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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