“ Membership of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust „
In conservation terms, wetlands are the poor relation to the rainforests. The destruction of the rainforests is the subject of worldwide conservation efforts, even involving celebrities visiting and publicising their plight. Forgotten and out of the limelight, however, the world's wetland areas are quietly being decimated.
This is a tragedy of epic proportions since our wetlands are at least as important as the rainforests, perhaps more. Wetland areas act as flood barriers; slowly releasing water like a sponge, preventing widespread flooding (often when areas are flooded, it is because the water meadows or marshes located nearby have been drained, removing their water controlling action). Wetlands also act as pollution filters, straining out the effects of man made and natural pollution, purifying the water, making it clean and safe. Lastly, wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse habitats on earth, holding more species than even the rainforests of the Amazon basin.
Fortunately, there is at least one conservation organisation dedicated to preserving wetlands: The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). The WWT was founded in 1946 by the late Sir Peter Scott who recognised the importance and fragility of these important habitats.
The trust's aim is to save wetlands and their wildlife and to raise awareness of the issues threatening these special places. The trust also aims to help people by allowing them to get closer to the natural world and to learn about the fascinating animals and birds that share this planet with us.
In the sixty years since its foundation, the WWT has gone from strength to strength: its successes have been many and varied. The Hawaiian Goose was saved from extinction (once down to 30 individuals) through a WWT captive breeding programme, protection of barnacle geese has helped the population return from 300 to almost 25,000 over a period of forty years, and Carmarthen Bay was designated a Special Protection Area after WWT surveys showed the presence of nationally important numbers of the common scoter sea duck.
The WWT is involved in wetland conservation projects across the world. All of this effort takes money of course and one of the most important sources of cash for the WWT is membership of the trust by members of the public.
Supporting the WWT in this way helps to ensure that the many ongoing projects can be resourced to ensure success in protecting wetlands both close to home and across the world. In protecting wetlands, we are also helping mankind, since the flood prevention and pollution filtering effects of these habitats can be maintained and improved.
At the time of writing, annual membership costs £34.00 for an adult, £52.00 for joint membership, £26.00 for concessionary membership and only £62.00 for a family of two adults and two children. Helping the WWT in this way may help prevent the extinction of the 30% of wetland mammals and 15% of wetland bird species currently on the endangered list.
In these recession hit times, it is often hard to find money for charitable causes and there are so many vying for our attention, so why should we support the WWT in preference to another? Well, my article has so far focussed on what we can do for the WWT. I now want to outline what membership of the WWT can do for us.
Firstly, there is an excellent, full colour magazine sent to each member every quarter. This makes for fascinating reading for anyone interested in the natural world. Much more importantly than this, however, membership entitles the member to free access to any of the nine WWT visitor centres across the UK.
The WWT centres are located in important wetland areas of the country such as Martin Mere in Lancashire, Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, and Caerlaverock in Scotland. Each of the centres offer fantastic facilities for the visitor with creature comforts such as shops, café's, children's play areas, and so on.
Martin Mere allows visitors to see otters, beavers, and to hand feed some of the delightful Hawaiian geese. Next year a canoe safari opens, which I can't wait to try out.
Slimbridge has world class facilities such as a cinema, zoo, Land Rover rides and more of those canoe safaris, as well as a superb restaurant.
Each of the centres also allows comfortable viewing of the reserve's wild birds; seeing the whooper swans at Martin Mere or Slimbridge's Bewick swans almost within touching distance is not an experience anyone will forget.
A visit to a WWT centre can take up a whole day, and is a great way to burn off some calories walking around these lovely wetland habitats made visitor friendly; each has something for everyone. Much of the exhibits are indoors, either in comfortable hides, or the visitor centre buildings, so they make excellent wet weather attractions. Martin Mere, Slimbridge, and the London Wetland Centre also have excellent 'In Focus' telescope and binocular dealerships allowing you to try out optical equipment 'in the field' whilst in the shop.
Entry into a WWT reserve is not cheap, at about £10, so it only takes about three to four trips to get one's membership fees back. Members can visit as many times as they like, meaning that regulars like myself actually save money by joining the WWT. It's rare to find an opportunity to contribute and save money at the same time, but membership of the WWT really is a 'win win' situation both for the trust and for the public. If you're interested in nature, a WWT membership for you and your family can be a great way to help protect the environment, have fun, and learn about this planet's fascinating variety of plants and animals.