Wetlands, including seeps and springs, serve as important areas of habitat for aquatic and terrestrial animals, and provide the important ecological function of filtering sediment and pollution before they reach the watershed. Wetlands are most effective in their ecological function and as habitat when their unique vegetation is allowed to grow. It is recommended not to drain or mow wetlands, nor to remove trees or allow livestock in them.
Wet meadows are the most common type of wetland in the Piedmont region of Virginia. They are often found in low lying farmlands and between shallow wooded marshes and upland areas. For most of the year, these wet meadows do not have standing water, and the high water table keeps the soil continuously saturated. This encourages a variety of water loving grasses, wildflowers, sedges, and rushes to grow. Unfortunately, these wetlands are often found in conjunction with fertile farmland, so they are frequently drained or impacted by uses such as mowing, removing trees, or allowing livestock in them. Wetlands are most effective in providing ecosystem services when their hydrology is preserved and the vegetation is allowed to flourish.
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act has helped landowners to reduce the impacts on and loss of wetlands, but degradation and loss continues. We continue to lose these important habitats because:
- Some wetlands (such as wet meadows) do not have standing water for most of the year, so landowners may not realize that there is a wetland on their property.
- Wetlands can still be drained and filled by permit if developers go through the permitting process and state that there are no viable alternatives without significant financial loss.
An increasing number of landowners are choosing to implement compatible land uses with the wetlands on their properties and are receiving financial assistance through cost-share programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program. Preserving wetlands through programs like the Wetland Reserve Program benefit landowners by:
- Providing partial financial compensation
- Enhancing wetland ecological values that benefit the landowner and the community
- Reducing the need to farm difficult wet areas and avoiding the expense of draining them
- Allowing landowner to demonstrate an environmental commitment
- Providing recreational opportunities on their property such as hunting, trapping, and wildlife watching
To learn more about wetlands visit these websites:
- Field Guide to Common Wetland Plants of Virginia's Piedmont. The Piedmont Environmental Council
- Managing Spring Wetlands for Fish and Wildlife Habitat. Virginia Cooperative Extension
- List of Wetland Links. Environmental Protection Agency
- Restoring Virginia's Wetlands. Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Department of Environmental Quality