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Words on wetlands

For World Wetland Day, Project Crimson Trustee and ‘Bugman’ Ruud Kleinpaste explains the etymological origins of the humble ‘wetland’.

When it comes to wetlands, New Zealand is not doing too well at all. In fact, just 10% of our original wetlands are still hanging in there: not a nice position to be in.

Like with so many environmental issues, it all starts with simple language. A “bog” doesn’t sound too flash, does it? In fact, it’s a word we use for “toilet”; it etymologically relates to the entomological concept “bug”, which originates in “bogey man”.

Historically, a new agricultural settler quickly realised that you can lose quite a few stock units in a “swamp” and a swamp often contained a taniwha… danger! No wonder then that most people were keen on draining that wet land, or – better still – dumping a heap of rubbish in it and covering that with soil.

Originally the whole aim of wetland eradication was to cultivate the wild lands and to make them into productive fields for pasture or crops. Nature is messy, whereas human activities (including economics) are typically clean, neat and tidy.

Thankfully, our attitudes have begun to change and we now understand that wetlands, those small springs, soaks, swamps, and the margins of rivers and streams and lakes, are nature’s vital tools for maintaining water tables, filtering and recycling waste, pollutants, nutrients and sediment washed from the land.

We now also know that functioning wetlands are right up there when it comes to sequestering carbon! In spite of this, the majority of wetland remnants are highly degraded and the unique biota dependent on these ecosystems is under threat.

This means that in terms of wetlands, “conservation” (sensu stricto) is relatively useless, whereas a whole lot of ‘R’ words (restoration, rehabilitation, regeneration, repair and re-wilding) would be a lot more efficacious for the health of our wetland habitats.

It’s simple eco-literacy! And thankfully, these ‘R’ words are the core business of Project Crimson and Trees That Count. Whether it’s shrubs that count, herbs that count, aquatic plants that count, bug-eating bog plants that count…Let’s put it all back together and get our feet dirty and wet!