What's an ecosystem?

iWitness Assignments Ecosystems

Since November 2010, our dedicated team of photographers and videographers have been on assignment at 20 locations around the UK with a mission to produce the most stunning imagery that conveys the essential value of restoring our most important but often fragmented habitats, not just for the benefit of wildlife but for us all.  Below are the 10 UK ecosystems that the iWitness Assignments will target.  Click on each ecosystem to find out why its important and follow the links to learn more about the assignments and where they’ll take place.  Or why not tell us what a particular ecosystem means to you. 

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More than just a heath

In southern Britain work to conserve, expand and reconnect major patches of heath is having encouraging results. Scrub is being removed to allow heaths to re-establish, drains have been blocked to restore water tables and ponies and cattle are grazing heathlands again. These are not wild places on the same scale as our mountains or forests, yet heaths are every bit a wild place to people of all ages and abilities who enjoy their sights, sounds and smells. Heaths provide us with accessible slices of wildness; they give us headspace and are home to a rich diversity of specialist wildlife.

More than just a peat bog

Healthy peat bogs are much more useful than you might imagine. Yes they are wild places full of wildlife, but they are also valuable allies in our efforts to combat climate change. Metre for metre, peat bogs store more carbon than tropical rain forests - not to mention their ability to purify our water. In many places throughout the UK people are coming together to repair those that have been damaged in the past. Water levels have been raised, alien trees removed, peat extraction halted and bog mosses reintroduced.  Our peat bogs are coming back to life.

More than just a river

Things are changing for the UK’s rivers. Inventive schemes are being conceived to allow rivers to flow naturally once again. And it’s not difficult to see why that’s a good thing. Not only do our rivers provide a home for some of our most cherished wildlife such as otters, kingfishers, salmon and ospreys; not only do they provide vital transport links, drinking water, irrigation and recreation; but they can, if managed imaginatively help alleviate the risk of flooding that prompted us to try and tame them in the first place.

More than just a saltmarsh

Saltmarshes may look like featureless expanses of mud but these estuaries are stuffed full of life. A football pitch size chunk of mudflat contains millions of molluscs and worms, attracting vast numbers of feeding birds and shoals of fish. But the value of saltmarshes reaches much further. As sea levels are set to rise, the buffer zone provided by salt meadows – the boundary between wet sea and dry land – could become an essential flood defence system and already innovative schemes are underway to harness these natural barriers and to work with nature not against it.

More than just a wetland

Let’s be straight here: a vast complex of wet grassland, wet woodland, raised bog, reedbed and other watery habitats have been lost to the UK; drained for agriculture, sapped of their life-rich wetness. But this trend is now being reversed and our carbon-locking, water-purifying wetlands are coming back to life. Restoring whole wetland ecosystems is a relatively new science but the rebirth has begun and we’re getting a glimpse of what might be possible in the future (just look at what’s already happening with beavers and cranes), as our wild wetlands spread across the country.

More than just an urban green space

Humans have become an urban species with around 75% of us now living in towns and cities. So urban quality of life is of great importance and there’s growing evidence to show how access to green spaces improves well-being and helps brings people and communities together. Urban rewilding is already underway in towns and cities throughout the UK and many organisations, local community groups and dedicated individuals are working hard to make green areas accessible to everyone where people can walk, meet, exercise and relax.

More than just farmland

75% of the UK is farmed and making space for wildlife is not easy. But a healthy balance between production and nature is both possible and desirable. For a long time that balance was tipped heavily in favour of intensive food production but there is a new wave of thinking about how people and nature can live together, and benefit each other. Throughout the UK committed groups of people – farmers, landowners, conservation volunteers - are working towards a vision for farmland that is good for nature, good for food production and good for people.

More than just some forest

In the natural course of things, much of the UK would be cloaked in trees but over the centuries our woodland cover has dwindled and is now amongst the lowest in Europe. But something is stirring across the UK - ancient forests are being brought back to life and new forests are taking root and it couldn’t be more timely. Trees cool our city streets and trap carbon dioxide helping to slow down climate change. They provide us with heating fuel, construction materials and food. Forests are fun; they are an outdoor playground and a place of refuge.

More than just some hills

Mountains fire our imaginations; they are the very essence of wildness and home to specialist and rare wildlife. Mountains catch, hold, filter and release enormous quantities of water, including the water we drink and rely on. Loosen the fragile mountain soils, for example by heavy grazing, and water run-off is faster and dirtier with an increased risk of heavy flooding downstream. Tackling these complex upland issues can be tricky but far-sighted groups of people are doing just that, investing time, energy and money in restoring our uplands up and down the country.

More than just the sea

The seas around the UK have the potential to be among the most productive and wildlife-rich on earth. A vibrant, healthy sea full of life is the foundation upon which long-term fish stocks are built, not to mention the stars of the flourishing wildlife tourism business – seals, puffins, gannets and dolphins. But presently less than 0.001% of our seas are fully protected from damaging activities. If they are to recover and thrive; if they are to continue to provide us with food and recreation, our seas need our respect; they need our help.

More than just a heath
More than just a peat bog
More than just a river
More than just a saltmarsh
More than just a wetland
More than just an urban green space
More than just farmland
More than just some forest
More than just some hills
More than just the sea