Happy World Wetlands Day!

Today is a day to celebrate and spread the word about our world’s wonderful wetlands.

Borrowed from the World Wetlands Day website. (Thank you!)

On this day 46 years ago, the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar.  Since then, the 2nd February has marked the signing of this Ramsar Convention: “an international treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources”.

Wetlands are increasingly acknowledged for their importance in controlling the quality and quantity of water flowing across landscapes, as reflected by the theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day: Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction.  They are also important for biodiversity conservation, for filtering pollutants from water supplies and of course our magnificent peatlands are critical for sequestering and storing atmospheric carbon (in their intact form).

Perhaps it’s time for a World Peatlands Day?

To celebrate the day and how peatland management has changed in the UK and Ireland over the last few generations, from predominantly extraction to conservation, here is a poem by Seamus Heaney:


Between my finger and my thumb   

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   

Bends low, comes up twenty years away   

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

My name is PEAT!

(Thank you, RSPB website.)

I stumbled/googled upon this a few days ago, and thought it was too good to go unreported.  Led by the rap artist, Ed Holden, a bunch of superstars from Pentrefoelas and Ysbyty Ifan Schools (had to copy and paste those names) have joined forces to show us all how important looking after our peatlands is.  It is half in Welsh.  And it is wholly inspired.

Of a slightly different tone,  The Importance of Scotland’s Peatlands also hit the big (YouTube) screen at the start of the month.  Another informative watch if you feel your knowledge of peat is wanting.

And whilst I’m posting about creative projects that can spread information and inspire interest for these precious ecosystems, here is the winner of the World Wetlands Day Poetry Prize: In My Other Life, by Virginia Creer.

Maji ni Uhai

IMG_3395  IMG_3403

A boy that we interviewed in the village of Mihembe, Mtwara District in southern Tanzania, showing us the slow process of filling buckets with water (see the right photo for ones he prepared earlier), from a pool of cloudy water that stagnates at the bottom of a hand-dug hole.

I gave quite a different lecture last week to any I’ve given before.  Though I wasn’t particularly nervous, I was gleaning with sweat.  My audience sat in front of me on plastic chairs, of a size that I would definitely get my bottom stuck in if I even tried to sit down.  The wide-eyed onlookers gave an impression of being interested, at least to start with.  Their ages ranged from three years to around twelve, excluding the patient teachers.  They all belonged to the Christian Missionary School, set up to educate the next generation of God “fearing” individuals living in the middle-class commuter belt of Dar es Salaam*.  (In response to my concerned enquiry, I was told that fearing actually meant respecting/understanding.  OK.)  Though the students are taught in English from Nursery, my strange accent & vocabulary may have introduced a bit of confusion and my blinding colour been a source of distraction.  I think the students in the bigger chairs at the back probably understood 50+% of what I said and provided plenty of (mostly) appropriate answers to my many questions.  Importantly, everyone got the message about being a tree when I asked them to.  After explaining who I was (I thought it best to miss off the tropical peat swamp forest palaeoecologist role), I tried to convey to them how important the environment is and the different ways we’re hurting it and the many animals that live ‘inside’.  A highlight for me came when a three year old, some 10 minutes after I’d asked what animals I might find in the (tiny – yet containing lions, giraffes, other big animals that I’d prefer weren’t there) zoo somehow around the corner, stuck his hand up to proudly announce “horse”.  At that point, I was reassured that my conservation message was being conveyed loud & clear.

Anyway, once my talk/animal showcase was over, the real education began.  My host, Hilda, showed them all a great documentary she had helped to produce: Maji ni Uhai – Water is Life in Kiswahili.  It tells the story of water: where it comes from & goes to, what it’s used for & why it’s disappearing, with a particular focus on the Great Ruaha River catchment (obviously a worthy cause).  I found it quite overwhelming to see all of the challenges the river is currently facing in maintaining a clean (enough) flow from source to sea, with extraction of water for agricultural irrigation, small-scale arable farming, livestock ranches big & small, and the multiple sources of pollution.  But the film was inspiringly optimistic in offering solutions: turn off taps, don’t chop down trees – plant them, don’t drop rubbish (a particular Bugbear of mine), amongst others.  Promisingly, the students could recall some of these actions afterwards, as well as the animals that had featured in the film, ofcourse.  Hopefully they’ll remember and conserve both.

Another Guest Lecturer experience to add to my CV.

*So I’m in Tanzania….more on that later.