WetlandLIFE project selects Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Westhay Moor site and Natural England’s Shapwick Heath Reserve for participation in major wetland project.

Catcott. Photo: Matt Sweeting

WetlandLIFE, a nationwide, three year university-led project, funded by a number of UK research councils, has announced that it will be working in the Somerset Levels to carry out a range of ecological and cultural research which aims to support the development of better wetland assessment tools for use by wetland site managers across the country – tools which will ensure that our wetlands are managed well and remain healthy in the face of challenges such as climate change, and are also optimised for the wider benefit of the communities that live alongside them in terms of health and wellbeing.

Westhay Moor and Shapwick Heath have been chosen as study sites as they provide examples of land use change in a rural setting, having been reverted into wetlands from agriculture and peat extraction, as well as having a rich history and vibrant recreational use.

Catcott. Photo: Matt Sweeting

The WetlandLIFE team will be working closely with site managers from Somerset Wildlife Trust and Natural England, and communities around Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor in a variety of ways; from investigating the human side of living alongside wetlands as well the challenges that arise from living near them, producing locally-inspired stories, documentaries, artworks and photography exhibitions; to more economic evaluation, social research and historical analysis to reveal the variety of values associated with wetlands, particularly their role in people’s health and wellbeing.

One particular focus will be on wetland mosquitoes, exploring how their beneficial ecological role sits alongside people’s perception and experiences of these insects.

Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve. Photo: Guy Edwardes 2020vision

Dr Tim Acott, from the University of Greenwich, is WetlandLIFE’s principal investigator.

He says: “This project gives us a fantastic opportunity to develop practical guidelines for wetland management, reflecting a greater understanding of mosquito ecology alongside the importance of wetlands to local communities. Our research will help us support the human health and wellbeing benefits that wetlands can provide.”

The project brings together social scientists, ecologists, historians, artists and economists, in a truly multi-disciplinary team. Six research institutes are involved, including Public Health England, Forest Research and the universities of Brighton, Bristol and Cranfield in addition to Greenwich. Three artists have also just been recruited to work on the project.

Dr Adriana Ford, Environmental Social Sciences Research Fellow at the University of Greenwich, who will be conducting filmed interviews for a ‘community voice’ documentary, says,

“We are delighted to be working in the Somerset Levels, in particular Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor. These wetlands are not only an important part of the landscape, but are also part of people’s lives and sense of place. We’re looking forward to working with local people to discover more about their relationships with these wetlands and that of the surrounding landscape.”