Dr Sharanya Basu-Roy, a wetlandLIFE Research Assistant in Economic Valuation from Cranfield University, shares her thoughts on recent field work visits to Alkborough Flats in North Lincolnshire and the Somerset Levels, two of the project's main case study sites and both great example of wetlands providing a multitude of benefits to people and the environment.
Working on the WetlandLIFE project has been a wonderful journey. Cranfield University’s role in the project is to conduct an economic valuation of the benefits provided by the English wetlands. Wetlands provide a whole range of benefits. These benefits can be categorised into: provisioning services (such as crops and grazing services) regulating services (such as flood regulation and improvement in water and air quality), cultural services (such as recreational benefits and volunteering services) and supporting services (such as supporting a wide range of biodiversity).
I am one of the environmental economists working on this project at Cranfield University. Working as an environmental economist has many perks. For instance, whereby most of your colleagues are doing predominantly deskwork, you get to visit beautiful landscapes in the middle of nowhere.
Visiting the wetlands has been the highlight of this project. I visit the wetlands quite often as putting a value on the above-mentioned services requires one to get a detailed understanding about the wetlands in the first place. Once that is done, a list of services is drawn up and, subsequently, I try to allocate a value to each of those services. This can be done using various methodologies, such as, market-method, cost-based methods, revealed preference, stated preference or benefit transfer method.
However, it should be noted that data limitation is a prime challenge of working on wetlands. Therefore, field visits for the purpose of primary data collection play a critical role. It is also essential to meet the stakeholders during those visits as these meetings provide me with a wider perspective on how the wetlands are affecting local people or the local economy. Questionnaires and interviews also play a key role in this stage. In the background of all this, appropriate econometric models are formulated which allow one to put a monetary value on the services provided by the wetlands, using the data collected.
Despite the challenging task of collecting data, I thoroughly enjoy visiting the wetlands. It allows me, not only to collect data for our economic analysis, but also to de-stress and helps me to disconnect from the materialistic world. I also get to meet people from all fields of life. Spending time with local people also provides me with a wider perception on nature and how it provides numerous benefits (particularly, mental and physical well-being). Talk about having your cake and eating it too!
In my recent field visit to the Alkborough flats, I met a photographer, Abby*. She has been a wild life photographer since her childhood. She grew up near the Alkborough flats and has very fond memories of the wetland. She also conducts nature walks around the wetlands for people suffering from mental health issues. Abby also informed me that psychologists in the UK have started recommending ‘spending time in nature’ for mental well-being.
I met her on site, at around eight in the morning. She had been in the wetlands since four, ecstatic that she had spotted a family of spoonbills! On pointing out her enthusiasm for the wetlands, she said, it is the cacophony of the birds, which inspires her. According to her, early hours of the morning are the best time to visit the wetlands. It is during this time that the birds start their day. Listening to their early morning singing with the sunrise makes her feel at peace with herself and inspires her to be as positive as the birds. On asking her ‘why does she think the birds are positive?’, she said: ‘You know they have such an unpredictable life, for instance they do not know whether by the end of the day they will survive or how many of their chicks will survive, but they still wake up every morning singing with the same enthusiasm’.
There are others you meet, who make you realise the importance of ‘giving back to the society’. Once, while on a field visit to the Avalon Marshes Centre, I met an old couple who volunteer every week in the wetlands. They help with maintaining the reed beds and cutting hedges. The couple said they are even busier after retirement than when they were working. Working at the wetlands is their way of ‘giving back to the community’. It also makes them very happy to be amidst nature, in the wetlands.
Lastly, whilst collecting data for the valuation study has been a struggle, what makes it worthwhile is getting an insight into how wetlands are making such a huge difference to the quality of lives of numerous people in the UK.
*Name changed on request.