Wetlands & People

People have been associated with wetlands in different ways since the start of humanity. Wetlands are sources of water, of food from fishing or farming, and can provide raw materials that can be used in construction, for animal fodder, or as medicinal plants. Wetlands are so valuable that they often attract major concentrations of people who derive their livelihoods from the resources wetlands sustain.

Despite this close and positive association, people are often regarded as the main threat to the survival of wetlands because of the perceived overuse and misuse of these resources. But as evidence from around the world suggests, people tend not to degrade indiscriminately the resources that their very livelihood depends upon. Rather, it is usually the case that peoples’ natural resource management strategies are informed by a knowledge and understanding of resources which has adapted and evolved over generations of interaction. Peoples’ activities can, in many cases, be the basis for the survival of wetlands; because wetlands are valued by people for their provision of ecosystem services, people are motivated to engage in sustainable management practices.

Wetland Action has been working with local people for many years to understand the dynamics of wetland-based livelihoods and the ways in which community-based wetland management strategies have adapted and evolved over time within wider socio-political contexts and environmental change. Key issues emerging from this work have included a recognition that local people should play a central role in wetland management and policy development, and that wetland stakeholders are diverse with different livelihood and development needs. Each wetland situation is essentially different, hence the need for a socio-ecological, systemic approach to management and conservation.