Photo: Snævarr Guðmundsson. Iceland
Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by water.
According to the Ramsar Convention wetlands are defined as: "areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres."
The Ramsar Classification of wetland types can be broadly divided into:
- Marine and coastal wetlands
- Inland wetlands
- Human-made wetlands
Wetlands in Nordic Baltic Countries
Over 200 Ramsar sites in NorBalWet countries cover almost 5,000,000 hectares of land. There are 5 shared biogeographical regions in the Nordic Baltic region: arctic, alpine, boreal, atlantic and continental.
Dominating wetland types are shallow marine waters, permanent lakes (freshwater), non-forested peatlands, forested peatlands, permanent rivers and streams, sand; shingle; peddle shores. Special attention should be paid to peatlands, since this wetland type is under-represented on the global Ramsar List, and take into account the important role of peatlands in climate change mitigation. Wetlands at Nordic level play the key role in stopping the loss of biological diversity and have an important role in climate change. NorBalWet has produced a film about nordic and baltic wetlands and their role in climate regulation and biodiversity. You can watch the film Peatlands-climate regulation and bioversity here.
There are more wetlands in Northern Europe than in many other continents in the world. 25 % of the ground area in Northern Europe can be defined as wetlands. After the Ice Age most of the Northern Europe was underwater. Post-glacial rebound created new, changing types of coastal areas, lakes, rivers and large waters. Shallow gulfs develop into lakes and further on into swamps that gradually turns into forests. During the winter Northern Europe is completely covered in snow. In the spring when snow melts the water levels will rise significantly. Flood waters fill the lakes and rivers and spread to low lying areas. Land use will change and shape wetlands greatly over times.