TV presenter and bird watcher Bill Oddie cited the spectacle of thousands of starlings swirling down to roost amidst the reeds and ponds of a wetland nature reserve in Somerset as one of the great wonders of the world.

As a result, that particular reserve, at Westhay, near Bridgwater, has become a huge tourist attraction during the winter months when each evening, the starlings arrive in vast flocks to roost in the marshes. 

Now there are plans for more wetlands as conservation bodies get together to return huge swathes of land to their original marshy states. And they’re doing it not just because of the enormous benefits for wildlife and landscapes but to prevent flooding elsewhere and  help deal with climate change.

In the Wetlands Vision initiative, conservation bodies, including Natural England, the Wildlife Trusts, and the RSPB, have produced maps pinpointing existing wetlands and places that used to be marshy but which have been drained over the years . Since the days of William the Conqueror, 90 per cent of our wetlands have disappeared.

Up to £2 million a year will be spent over the next three years with the meres and mosses of the Midlands, the fens of South Lincolnshire, and the peatlands of the Humberhead Levels among the first areas to be restored.

Alastair Burn, of Natural England, said: “Wetlands are some of the most important landscapes on earth. These landscapes provide vital wildlife habitats and public services. He added, “By increasing the natural capacity of the countryside to absorb and hold excess water, the risk of flooding could be dramatically decreased. The restoration and enhancement of wetland peat bogs could save around 400,000 tonnes of carbon a year.”