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Conservation of aquatic landscapes: ponds, lakes, and rivers as integrated systems

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Although many wetlands have been lost, the European lowlands still hold a mosaic of aquatic habitats covering rivers, lakes, ponds, ditches, springs, and swamps. To effectively conserve this diverse and important resource, both scientific studies and management and restoration activities need to focus on all of the watery patches in the landscape and in turn on the linkages between them. Over recent years, catchment and landscape‐based approaches to aquatic conservation have been on the rise. However, perhaps driven by a lack of legislative drivers, there remains a tendency to neglect small lakes, ponds, and headwater streams. With consideration of the current conservation scene in the UK, and using a small lowland river catchment (River Glaven, eastern England) as a case study, this paper outlines the strong need for an integrated approach to aquatic conservation that sees rivers, lakes, and ponds as habitat networks. It is proposed that river restoration needs to more fully embrace standing water habitats on floodplains (backwaters and ponds), frequently missing components in regulated rivers. Equally, is it argued that aquatic conservation strategies should focus more strongly on headwater areas where protecting/restoring networks of farmland ponds, ditches, and small streams should increase connectivity for aquatic species, while moderating floods and improving water quality for receiving systems. In this way, aquatic conservation should become a much more effective and sustainable activity with positive ecological consequences that cascade downstream and into the coastal zone. WIREs Water 2014, 1:573–585. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1045 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
River Glaven catchment (North Norfolk, eastern England) showing the distribution of Eurasian otter and European eel. Location of the Upper Glaven Project as illustrated in Figure is shown by the inset box close to the village of Bodham (*).
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Illustrations of the Upper Glaven Project: (a) rough grassland margin along a small river tributary; (b) meadow A plant community (see Figure ) in June 2014; (c) pioneering southern marsh orchids (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) in meadow A, June 2014; (d) pond 1 before restoration in 2010 with open water extent limited to a small 3 m2 patch; (e) pond 1 in 2013 2 years after restoration by sediment and scrub removal.
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Bodham area in the upper reaches of the River Glaven (Norfolk, eastern England) in 2004 (a) and in 2014 after landscape‐scale conservation measures (b). See inset in Figure for location of the ‘Upper Glaven Project’ in the Glaven catchment.
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Re‐meandering of the River Glaven, Norfolk, eastern England: (a) river platform before and after restoration; (b) photograph of backwater habitat (arrowed in a); (c) rarefaction curves comparing species richness across six river sites (GLR), six backwater sites (GLB) and for river and backwater sites combined (GLR + GLB).
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Ingested biomass of ‘river‐associated’ and ‘stillwater‐associated’ prey species in otter spraints collected from the River Glaven catchment, Norfolk, England. The river and stillwater categories are based on surveys/knowledge of species distribution across different aquatic habitats in the catchment (see Ref ). River‐indicator species = brown trout Salmo trutta, white‐clawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes, European bullhead Cottus gobio, stone loach Barbatula barbatula, three‐spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, European ruffe Gymnocephalus cernua, European gudgeon Gobio gobio. Stillwater indicator‐species = common carp Cyprinus carpio, crucian carp Carassius carassius, tench Tinca tinca, roach Rutilus rutilus, rudd Scardinius erythropthalmus, pike Esox lucius, signal crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus, perch Perca fluviatalis, common frog Rana temporaria, common toad Bufo bufo, ducks (Anatidae), moorhen/coot (Ralidae). Note that European eel Anguilla anguila is common in both river and stillwater sites in the catchment, so it was equally divided between both categories.
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Convergence of ‘different’ aquatic habitats: (a) slow‐flowing lowland river—River L'Ognon, eastern France; (b) shallow lake, Holkham Hall estate, eastern England; (c) backwater feature, Ardéche river, south‐central France; (d) marl‐pit pond in agricultural land, Norfolk, eastern England showing dense beds of Potamogeton natans; (e) palaeo‐channel feature again dominated by P. natans (River Glaven, Norfolk, eastern England).
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Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems
Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change

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