Rare species of houses and a source of natural goods
Currently, natural wetlands occupy only about 2.73 percent. Lithuanian territories, and almost 7 percent more damaged. Most of them are small – up to 50 hectares and unevenly distributed within the country. Most of them are in the folded relief of the Baltic and Samogitian highlands, in the Central Lowlands, in the valleys of the rivers of the South-Eastern Plain.
Wetlands have long been an integral part of human life – wetlands, especially bogs and marshes, are mentioned as mysterious places in Lithuanian mythology and folklore, many place names are associated with them, here the villagers used to graze animals, collect herbs, chimney-covered vegetables survived well during the winter – neither rotting nor drying. Due to their thermal insulation properties, chimneys were laid between the logs when building houses.
With the disappearance of the swamps, there would be no more cranberries, and therefore no kisses during the holidays, and cranberry jams and herbal teas, which strengthen immunity. There would not be many other plant and animal species for which the wetland is the only habitat. Some of the plant species still found in Lithuania – the double-leaved dirt, the marsh rock, the glistening mound – are rare and endangered throughout Europe.
And where else can you find such mysterious plants as insectivores – common plumage, sunflowers or drownings lurking in the basins of swamps and their lakes? Those who like to walk in the marshes or cognitive trails in the swamps would lose the opportunity to enjoy it, some photographers and artists would lose their source of inspiration and object of depiction. Will you say that not everyone likes cranberries, and those herbs and creatures are not interested? And we perceive beauty differently. However, wetlands and other ways are involved in the lives of all of us, even skeptics.
We are the custodians of the usual landscape
Many streams flow out of the wetlands. If there were no wetlands, the streams would be significantly shortened, as there would no longer be their uplands fed by the waters of the wetlands. And even those shortened streams and the rivers they flow into would not be so watery.
During droughts, some of the streams would simply disappear, and belly-up fish would become the norm in depleted large rivers. There would also be lower water levels in the lakes, which would cause them to silt up faster and be conquered more quickly by reeds and aquatic vegetation. And some of the shallower and smaller lakes would not remain at all. Maybe exactly where you like to swim, fish or otherwise spend time with it.
The disappearance of wetlands would change the whole environment. Probably not many have noticed that the swamp shares vital moisture with the surrounding areas – in dry years, only boletus or berries can be found in the marshes, when forests are empty everywhere else.
Wetlands affect vegetation not only in areas adjacent to them. By evaporating the water accumulated in them directly and through the mouths of the plants growing in them, the wetlands humidify the air. The moisture released by the wetlands contributes greatly to the dew falling off at night, revitalizing the plants and allowing them to survive a period without rain.
This is especially true in the face of climate change – as there is not only a predictable but already observed decrease in rainfall during the warm period – precisely when the water needs of the vegetation are greatest. This means that the image of the leaves of lawns and meadows and yellowing trees that have rotted in midsummer would be more frequent and would become common in the long run if we lost the swamps.
Potential allies in halting climate change
Wetlands are undeservedly forgotten when it comes to climate change and ways to mitigate it. Of all terrestrial ecosystems, wetlands are the most efficient carbon sink, with up to seven times more carbon per unit area than other terrestrial ecosystems, surpassing forests.
They have the property of accumulating carbon dioxide taken from plants from the air and converted into organic compounds in incompletely decomposed plant residues – peat. Although durpynai makes up only about 3 percent of the world. land area, their peat has stored twice as much carbon dioxide over thousands of years as all the world’s forests combined.
However, wetlands can perform this function, which is especially important in the context of climate change, only when they are intact – their hydrological conditions are not disturbed and the wetland vegetation is not destroyed. Otherwise, a dangerous reverse process begins.
Unfortunately, most of our wetlands are drained or completely drained. When the water level drops about half a meter below the surface of the swamp, oxygen penetrating the peat bed promotes its mineralization. Peat mineralization releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which increases the greenhouse effect. Globally, carbon dioxide emissions from drained or burned peatlands are equivalent to one tenth of annual emissions from fossil fuels.
In Lithuania, on average, about 10.81 million ha are discharged from drained peatlands every year. tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent. This is almost equal to the annual emissions from the energy sector, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, amounted to 11.9 million in 2018. tons and accounted for almost 60%. of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Why don’t we see wetlands and peatlands in official statistics? Because GHG emissions from land use change are not yet included. Restoring the required water level in damaged peatlands could reduce carbon emissions by almost two-thirds.
So, on the issue of climate change, wetlands do not remain indifferent: either we can turn them into our allies, or they will turn against us. It is therefore essential to restore and maintain wetlands in good condition so that they mitigate the process and consequences of climate change and do not release the carbon stored in peat over millennia.
The text was prepared in the framework of the implementation of the LIFE integrated project “Optimization of Natura 2000 Network Management in Lithuania”, the aim of which is to ensure full protection of Natura 2000 sites in Lithuania. More information – naturalit.lt.
The contents of this text are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.
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