Wetlands are more than just areas saturated with water. They are moors, bogs, marshes, and bayous that are critical safeguards against disasters and extreme weather events. They also help sustain life. And they’re disappearing at an alarming rate just as their necessity grows.
According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the frequency of natural disasters has more than doubled over the past half century, the majority climate and weather related. Ninety percent of all natural hazards are water-related; here in Europe flooding alone has doubled over the last 35 years. While not cure-alls, wetlands do help mitigate disasters.
The general public remains largely unaware of how important wetlands are. They’re often seen as wastelands, something to be converted or filled. According to the UN, scientists estimate that at least 64 percent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900. The loss has been even more dramatic in Europe which has lost, by some estimates, 70 percent of its wetlands just over the past few decades.
Just south of Ljubljana’s city limits lies The Ljubljana Moors Regional Park, a 160 square kilometer parcel of land whose claim to fame is as Europe’s southernmost wetland. They’re also my favorite local spot to go bike riding. (If you’re in town for more than 36 hours, I highly recommend that you rent a bike and spend a few hours exploring as well.)
The moors, or barje, are closely related to the area’s history and lore. During the Bronze Age, between 4500 and 1800 BC, “Pile-dwellers” lived on the marshes in shacks constructed above water on stilts known as piles. Remains of the dwellings have received UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status.
The Romans were the first to attempt to tame, or drain, the moors, in an effort to increase the amount of farmland in the area. The intervention was successful in part, reducing the frequency of flooding that inundated Ljubljana which is largely flat. But over time those efforts also drastically reduced the amount of actual wetlands, doing more long term damage.
Attitudes changed towards the end of the last century and in 2008, most of the marshes, and area covering 135 square kilometers, received additional protected status as a landscape park.
It’s an exceptionally diverse and unique habitat, one that covers just one percent of Slovenia’s territory, but is the breeding ground for more than 100 bird species, nearly half that call Slovenia home. Even more winter there, or pass through during migratory periods.
I’ll add to this post when time allows. In the meantime, some links for further exploration, most Europe-related:
- The wetlands along the river Rhine struggle to recover from human engineering – Deutsche Welle (2 Feb 2017)
- ‘Human Swan’ Trails Endangered Birds on Epic 4,500-Mile Migration – Live Science (16 Jan 2017)
- EU considers intervening in Donana (Spain) case to stop dangerous gas storage – Olive Press (29 Jan 2017)
- Wetlands – Biodiversity Information System for Europe
- LIFE and Europe’s wetlands: Restoring a vital ecosystem – Europa.eu (PDF)
- Wetland Drying up at alarming rate – World Wildlife Fund UK
And below, a few more images.