Important Freshwater Areas

You’ve probably heard us mention the term Important Freshwater Areas (IFAs) before, and it’s something you’ll hear more about in the future.

As the name implies, it’s about making sure everyone knows where the most important sites for freshwater wildlife are, so we know where exactly they are. This is the first step in protecting them from pollution and degradation, and we can build out from these important sites and provide new or restored habitats for freshwater plants and animals.

The concept behind Important Freshwater Areas is to bring together, information on the location of all areas important for the protection of freshwater biodiversity.

You might ask why we need to do this – surely we know where all the important rivers and lakes are already? But what we’re increasingly realising is that freshwater plants and animals depend on all kinds of freshwaters from the biggest lakes to the tiniest trickles, pools and springs – and many of these smaller freshwaters have been overlooked. Because of this, there is no single source of mapping or data which collates in one place the information on the location of all the most important sites.  This kind of information is vital if we’re to protect freshwater life effectively and is needed by everyone involved in managing land and water, from planners and government agencies to water companies, farmers and environmental NGOs. Such information is an essential resource to effectively protect important sites, including those which may not have any statutory designation, and also decide which areas to try to improve so biodiversity is increasing in freshwaters rather than, as is so often the case, retreating and declining.  So this is where we come in.

So where are we now? We ran the first workshop in 2014, supported by the Defra funded Catchment Based Approach, to bring together freshwater professionals who have detailed knowledge of which species, habitat and environmental data should be used to identify important areas for freshwater biodiversity. Everyone was positive about the concept, and many useful ideas were suggested, improving on our initial thoughts – see the report from the workshop.

We ran a follow up workshop in 2015 to discuss how to use the IFA approach to support the delivery of Biodiversity 2020, with a focus on local delivery by CaBA partnerships. The workshop report is soon to be published, together with guidelines for CaBA group and case studies. Technical leaflets to support CaBA groups have also been produced by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust that will bring together knowledge from many experts and stakeholders.

We’re also developing the concept and method through a detailed pilot project in Oxfordshire – where we are based – with the financial support from the Patsy Wood Trust. We’re hoping to roll out a national partnership project from mid-2017 onwards – it’s a big job!