DOTTY MCLEOD: A study conducted at Wicken Fen near Ely has found the value of wetland is greater per hectare than farmland. Compared to use as intensely farmed arable land, restored wetland could be worth nearly £130 more per hectare, in part because of its ability to reduce flooding and carbon emissions. It also provides grazing and can be used for recreation and tourism. Dr Francine Hughes is a Reader in Wetland Ecology and Conservation at Anglia Ruskin University, and is an author of the research. Now this came as a surprise to me Francine, because we hear so often that arable farmland in Cambridgeshire is more valuable than land in the middle of London, but wetland you say is even more valuable.
FRANCINE HUGHES: Yes. Well you have to look at it in terms of both the cost and the benefits of the two land uses that we’re talking about here. So arable crops are very very valuable, and especially in the Fens, where the soils are wonderfully fertile. But the cost of producing those crops is also very high. On the other hand, the wetland’s overall value is actually a little lower, but the cost is much lower. So when you look at the net difference, then we find that the value of the wetland per hectare is higher. So it is important that you look at the costs and the benefits of both types of land use.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So who gains from wetland?
FRANCINE HUGHES: Well if you go to Wicken Fen and walk around you’ll see who’s gaining, because there are a huge number of visitors. Many many come out from Cambridge on the nice bike routes that now exist to take visitors from Cambridge to the Fen. But over the year there may be as many as 80,000 people using Wicken Fen in some form of recreational way. There are also people using farmland for recreation, because there are footpaths of course going through farmland, and a small amount of our assessment of the benefits of farmland was actually the value of the small number of people who used footpaths for recreation in those areas too. But obviously the bigger but much much more important part of our assessment of the value of the farmland was the crops that the farmland produces.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So if we’re looking at it on a hectare basis, a per hectare basis, how much is a hectare of wetland worth?
FRANCINE HUGHES: Well you can’t give it a value like that except by comparison with an alternative land use. So as our study showed, in the year 2011 which is the year in which we collected the data for this, it is important to remember and take away the key message that these data only apply to 2011, then the value was about £130 more per hectare in that year for the wetland.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So if we’re going to maximise the value of all the land in Cambridgeshire, should we be flooding the county?
FRANCINE HUGHES: Well of course not, and it’s not maximising the value in monetary terms that’s really important. It’s maximising the range of land uses, so that we serve all parts of society. Of course we must produce food. It’s very important. But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t also have some land that is set aside for wildlife, and the main purpose of producing wetland is to increase the range of places that wildlife can use in the county.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Dr Hughes, interesting to talk to you this morning. Thank you for coming on. That’s Dr Francine Hughes who is a Reader in Wetland Ecology and Conservation at Anglia Ruskin University and an author of this research into the value of wetland in Cambridgeshire.