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Wildlife Photography Advice - Wetlands

Niall Benvie from 2020VISION shares a few tips on taking photos in Wetlands and explains why they're getting restored.

| Animals / Wildlife

Wildlife Photography Advice - Wetlands:
Ross Hoddinott - 2020VISION

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For much of our history, people have valued dry land over wet. Niall Benvie describes why in some places now, the sluices are being raised and wetlands restored.

During the period of Agricultural Improvement, concentrated between about 1750 and 1850, huge areas of previously open land were enclosed (hastened by the General Enclosure Act of 1801) and unproductive, waterlogged soils drained. Expertise developed in densely populated Flanders was imported and put to good use in the low lying areas of eastern England, greatly increasing the area that could be cultivated. Britain was hungry: its population had grown from 6 - 9 million during the latter part of the 18th century and the disruption caused by war with France highlighted the need for a greater degree of self-sufficiency. The agricultural innovators rose to the challenge.

Two centuries on and our priorities have changed, our memory of wetlands, faded. We trust in world markets to feed us and relations with France have improved somewhat. We have forgotten the power of wild nature, built houses on river flood plains - and sometimes paid the price. But what we do have now is a much keener appreciation of what wetlands contribute to the landscape, an understanding that they are not mere wastelands in need of drainage. We are beginning to acknowledge that society need wetlands and in a few places are setting about restoring them.

So what good is a wetland? From a naturalist’s perspective, wetlands are an easy sell. Some of the country’s most exciting species - from cranes and bitterns to otters and ospreys - make their home there. Unless drained, they are suitable neither for development nor vehicles. In the wilder parts it is easy to find untrodden waterlogged paths and imagine oneself in a wilderness. Or to recall childhood “Swallows and Amazons” adventures. But wetlands are not just for our entertainment. Reed beds, for example, are effective purifiers of polluted water and, in the absence of sewage treatment plants, are often used in rural areas to remove organic waste and most of the nitrogen and phosphates from “grey water”. Although imported reeds are used to roof the majority of England’s 55 000 thatched properties, the potential exists to increase the component of domestically grown reed.

Wildlife Photography Advice - Wetlands:
Guy Edwardes - 2020VISION

Many of the problems associated with flash floods arise because of insufficient areas of wetland to receive heavy rainfall and regulate its discharge downstream. The problem is especially acute in urban environments where drains are quickly overwhelmed; asphalt absorbs none of a deluge unlike a wetland where vegetation slows the flow and diffuses its potency. But wetlands need space to be effective, space that has been eroded over the years by housing and other developments. Now, according to The Environment Agency, one in six properties in England and Wales is at risk from flooding. While engineered solutions to flood mitigation and property protection have an important role to play, natural ones in the shape of extensive wetlands within the catchment provide an economic alternative with few of the ongoing costs of man-made structures. It’s time to restore and redeploy wetlands, especially given the predicted increase in extreme weather events stemming from climate change.

One of the most ambitious restoration schemes is the Great Fen project, reconnecting the National Nature Reserves of Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen in Cambridgeshire. Along with Chippenham Fen, these are the only remaining traditional Fen wetlands left - over 99% have been drained and yielded to the plough. The plan is to reinstate over 3000 ha of wetland (the low-lying Fen country of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Lincolnshire extends to 380 000 ha) between these two important reserves. This is an example of nature conservation on the landscape scale, where species are free to expand their range, rather than remain isolated in nature reserves surrounded by unsuitable habitat. And wildlife won’t be the only beneficiary. By making this a flagship example of landscape restoration, the agencies behind it fully expect visitor numbers to soar, creating new business opportunities for local people.

Wildlife Photography Advice - Wetlands:
David Tipling - 2020VISION

The project can also be viewed as a pragmatic response to the fact that, thanks to the shrinking of the underlying peat, much of the Cambridgeshire Fens are actually below sea level. One to two centimetres are being eroded every year, with serious medium ad long term implications for agriculture. The on-going costs of drainage are therefore likely to spiral as sea levels creep up. Rather than work against natural process, the possibilities of making a living once more in a wetter landscape will need to be explored.

This is an area with high population growth and with it, demand for access to open, green, inspiring places. That population also needs improved protection from flooding. The Great Fen Project can deliver both and highlights that nature conservation benefits not only some birds and bugs but people too.

Wildlife Photography Advice - Wetlands:
Ross Hoddinott - 2020VISION

2020VISION for more information.

TOP TIPS for wetland photography:

  • Wetlands, by their very nature, are very flat so look out for structures to give you a bit of elevation. Even a little bit of extra height allows the patterns of drainage channels to be seen better.
  • The panoramic format is well-suited to wetland sites. Stitching software is so good now that you don’t need to worry too much about nodal points and other niceties: just shoot the components vertically, make sure there is at least a 30% overlap between each image and leave enough to crop above and below to allow for an losses due to perspective distortion.
  • Wellingtons are useful but you’ll be able to get to many more places wearing chest waders. Just beware, however, of falling over with them and carry a knife to slit them open in case of an emergency: they can pull you underwater if they fill.
  • If your camera doesn’t have an articulating screen, use an anglefinder to get water level shots.
  • For a different perspective, shoot the wetland from a small boat or canoe: you can use patterns in the water caused by the boat’s wake as foreground.

Wildlife Photography Advice - Wetlands:

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