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Introduction

Wetlands are complex ecosystems of paramount importance, not only because they have become so rare and are so threatened, but because they perform important environmental and economic functions. Naturally functioning wetlands reduce flooding events, improve water quality, store carbon, and represent a valuable cultural and natural heritage. Due to their complex composition and structure, they generate unique vegetal, wildlife, fisheries, forestry and recreational resources. The combination of these functions and products makes these ecosystems invaluable to us.

A disappearing resource

Despite their intrinsic value, the loss of wetlands is widespread. Today, wetlands are affected by human activities in their entire water catchment area. They are among the most threatened ecosystems and landscapes in Europe due mainly to drainage, land reclamation, pollution and overexploitation of wetland resources. It is estimated that two thirds of Europe’s wetlands have disappeared since the beginning of the 20th Century, mainly lost through development processes which did not take their functions and values adequately into account.

Natura 2000

Many wetland habitat types and species in Europe are now protected through the Natura 2000 network. Several other Directives also contribute directly or indirectly to improving the quality of wetlands, such as the urban waste water treatment Directive (91/271/EEC), the Nitrate Directive (91/676/EEC) and the Water Framework Directive (20/60/EC), which is probably the most comprehensive instrument to improve the quality of entire watersheds.

Good practice examples

Whilst many conservation actions for wetlands have focused on restoring sites and species to a favourable state of conservation some have gone one step further and found innovative ways to integrate conservation needs with the hydrological management and land uses of the surrounding area.

1. Stepping stones along the Western Palaearctic Flyway in Denmark
2. Developing a strategic network for bittern in the UK
3. Restoration of lowland fens in the Netherlands
4. An integrated approach to managing the Amvrakikos wetland in Greece
5. Restoring wetlands on the Hortobagy steppes in Hungary

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