The Embrace of Water

by Miranda Dickinson


Here is the place where sky meets land, united in liquid sanctuary. Freshwater, salt, peat and bog: life gone before nourishing life newly arrived. Watery arms surround, a peat heart beats beneath. And in their embrace, life thrives.

Here black-white avocets wade, shovelers swim; beneath the surface, eels and three-spined sticklebacks move unseen. In the air above, song: curlew, cuckoo and Cetti’s warbler. In reeds, grasses and scrub curl harvest mice tails, jewelled dragonflies dipping between.

Magical habitat over many generations formed. But if not protected now, for countless generations lost. This precious gift:

Writing The Embrace of Water

I have enjoyed wetland habitats for most of my life without ever realising their importance. Visiting the RSPB Middleton Lakes near Tamworth, and Kingsbury Water Park near Birmingham, over many years have made the mix of marshland, lake and scrubland familiar to me. But until I embarked upon writing my centena, The Embrace of Water, for the 26 Habitats project in conjunction with The Wildlife Trusts, I didn’t know the definition and importance of these much-loved places.

My father-in-law, Phil – a long-time member of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and several local birding organisations – provided me with a wealth of information about the wading birdlife and rare species that inhabit these unique and truly special habitats. I learned about the Tame Valley Wetlands – incorporating both Middleton Lakes and Kingsbury Water Park – and how the landscape has been recognised as a Nature Improvement Area, leading to major conservation work to protect this wonderful area as part of a ‘living landscape’.

When researching for this project, I was struck by the sheer variety and diversity of flora and fauna represented by the wetland habitats. I wanted my centena to reflect this. I had assumed wetlands were mostly about water-life, but so many ecosystems are brought together here: animals that live in scrubland bordering wetlands, insects that rely on both water and land, aquatic life that needs the delicate balance of conditions in order to thrive, even the bedrock of the wetlands themselves, from ancient peat to former quarries reclaimed by nature. I discovered that there are both freshwater and saltwater wetlands and that in some places, such as The Christopher Cadbury Wetland Reserve at Upton Warren, both are present.

I was particularly struck by how all the ecosystems represented by wetland habitats rely so much on one another. It made me think of a gentle embrace: life gone before – both in terms of peat formation and previous industrial land use – supporting new life and life to come. The threat to wetlands became real to me when I considered how all of it could so easily be lost without conservation and education. I didn’t know about wetlands before this project – how many more people are unaware of this habitat’s importance? We have to recognise how important wetland habitats are and I am thrilled to have had this opportunity to support the vital work of The Wildlife Trusts in preserving these habitats for generations to come.

As well as supporting a host of wildlife, wetlands store carbon and slow the flow of water. Find out more about why these habitats are so important on The Wildlife Trusts’ wetlands page.

One thought on “Wetlands

  1. “Watery arms surround, a peat heart beats beneath. And in their embrace, life thrives.” I love this gorgeous image of watery arms and a peat heart – it’s not even possible but in poetry it is! Such a gentle yet quietly insistent voice in Miranda’s centena urging us to do what we can to protect our important wetlands so that all of the wildlife, so beautifully described in the second stanza can thrive. Lovely work.

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