Today, on 2nd February 2018, we are celebrating World Wetlands Day. Half of the world's population live in urban areas today. By 2050 that proportion will reach 66%, as people move to cities in search of jobs and a vibrant social life. As cities expand and the demand for land increases, wetlands tend to be degraded, filled in and built upon.
Urban wetlands provide, however, many benefits for cities and constitute a good example of how cities should work with nature, rather than against it. Wetlands reduce floodings, as they act as giant sponges that absorb flood waters. Rivers, ponds, lakes and marshes soak up and store heavy rainfall. In coastal cities, saltmarshes and mangroves work as a buffer against storm surges. Wetlands also filter waste and improve the water quality. The silt-rich soil and abundant plants in wetlands function as water filters, which absorb some harmful toxins, agricultural pesticides and industrial waste. Urban wetlands also help treat sewage from households.
Wetlands radiate moist air thanks to their high water levels and lush plant life. This naturally cools the air in the local surroundings and improves the air quality. Wetlands also promote human well-being. When preserved as green spaces in cities, wetlands offer residents a space for recreation and access to diversity of plant and animal life. Studies confirm that interacting with nature reduces stress and improves our health.
Wetlands cover about 2% of the EU's total area. Ireland has the largest shares of area covered with wetland, closely followed by Sweden, Finland, Estonia and the United Kingdom. Together these five Member States accounts for more than 75% of the total wetlands in the EU (numbers from 2015).