Press Release: Leeds environmental science researchers take part in WaterLANDS – New European Green Deal project launched to restore European wetlands

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18 October 2021

An ambitious project has been launched to tackle largescale restoration of Europe’s wetlands, with €23 million of funding from the EU Horizon 2020 Programme Green Deal.

WaterLANDS (Water-based solutions for carbon storage, people and wilderness) will restore wetland sites across Europe which have been decimated by human activity and lay the foundations for scalable protection across much wider areas.

The Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP), run by water@leeds based at University of Leeds are key research partners in the European project which will support communities involved in the restoration of peatlands across the region and the wider UK.

WaterLANDS will undertake hands-on restoration of specific wetland sites, covering an initial 10,500 ha, and create best practice models that can be applied to wetland restoration at other sites. By engaging with local communities and stakeholders, the project will ensure that wetland restoration results not only in environmental gains, but also social and economic benefits for the communities involved.

The five-year project is led by University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland and brings together 31 other organisations from research, industry, government and non-profit sectors in 14 European countries.

Professor Joseph Holden, director of iCASP and water@leeds, said the project builds on the collaborative iCASP approach, funded through the Natural Environment Research Council.

He said: “We are really excited to be part of this amazing project that looks to upscale our existing knowledge across many disciplines, and seeks to collaborate with a wide range of communities and organisations to deliver major advances in wetland restoration.

“For the UK, peatlands are our main land-based carbon store and we must do all we can to protect and enhance them. This will enable us to reduce flood risk from the uplands, improve water quality and take carbon out of the atmosphere.

“WaterLANDS will use its partnership with iCASP to support collective action in Yorkshire and across the UK, informing policy and governance processes, investment cases in peatland restoration and practical methods for ensuring maximum gains from investment.”

Professor Julia Martin-Ortega, social sciences project lead for Water@Leeds, at University of Leeds, said: “What makes WaterLANDS different and more innovative than other programmes in this field is how it places communities and how they value wetlands at the core of its restoration.“The importance of working with communities to shape and inform restoration action is recognised and this highlights how any successful intervention requires interdisciplinary research, bringing together natural and  social sciences, but also with input from stakeholders and members of the public.

“At the University of Leeds, both interdisciplinarity and working with communities is at the heart on how we see addressing major societal challenges such as the need to take care of wetlands.”

Dr Craig Bullock, WaterLANDS project coordinator and Research Fellow in Planning and Environmental Policy at University College Dublin, commented on the project’s significance, he said: “Previous attempts at wetland restoration have often been too localised or too fragmented to make a significant difference to the re-establishment of wetland ecosystems and species. In WaterLANDS, we aim to co-create a more effective means of restoration which captures ecological, social, governance and financial aspects, to connect habitats and communities across Europe, ensuring both thrive for many generations to come.”

Comprised of diverse ecosystems including peatlands, fens, riparian marshes and coastal estuaries, wetlands are home to 40% of the world’s species. They also store and capture carbon, remove environmental pollutants, and protect communities from flooding. Wetlands are particularly vulnerable to damage from human activities. Europe has already lost up to 90% of its original wetlands, resulting in massive biodiversity loss, water and food shortages, devastating floods and fires, coastal subsidence and erosion. The largescale, integrated approach developed in

WaterLANDS will address these challenges to ensure the resilience and health of both wetland habitats and the communities who rely on them.

Funding for WaterLANDS is part of the European Commission’s Green Deal ambition to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050 with a sustainable economy that leaves no one behind. The project will officially launch in December 2021.

Notes for Editors

The Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP) is a six-year programme based at University of Leeds funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.  It uses existing environmental science to address catchment management problems. Projects are co-designed by academics from Leeds, Sheffield, York and Newcastle Universities working in partnership with experts from organisations such as local authorities, the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, the Met Office, voluntary groups such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and many others. Visit or for more details about iCASP Peat projects

About WaterLANDS

  • • Project website (coming soon):
  • • For updates follow @WaterLANDS_EU on Twitter