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The view of wetlands has changed with time.
One hundred years ago, large areas of Sweden's now rich agricultural landscape were wetlands. With clearly set goals to establish water control and drainage structures, wetlands have more or less disappeared. The loss of wetlands resulted in declines in landscape (and habitat) values, which has many negative aspects. Biodiversity decreased and release of nutrients (primarily nitrogen) increased, causing eutrophication in coastal areas. Research has shown how wetlands can be used as a tool in land use planning and water resources management. Various societal benefits ("ecosystem services") have been achieved by creating or restoring wetlands designed for specific functions.
Wetlands reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, but also other substances, for example heavy metals and environmental pollutants. Wetlands manage pollutants from diffuse runoff, e.g. from agriculture and urban storm water, but also may be applied as a stage in municipal wastewater treatment and to treat e.g. industrial wastewater, mine drainage and landfill leachate.
Wetlands increase biodiversity in the landscape. Wetlands are used, temporarily or permanently, by many different species as a place to feed, reproduce, or rest. Many rare and endangered species are dependent on wetlands.
Wetlands contribute to dampening the variations of floods. Water stored in wetlands can be utilised for irrigation, for example.
Wetlands contribute to improve our quality of life. Examples include outdoor recreation, sport fishing, hunting, bird watching, scenic natural habitats and green space, tourism, study and education.
Wetlands offer possibilities for production, such as bioenergy production, combined with recycling nutrients and organic matter for agriculture. Wetlands may be used in aquaculture and as nurseries for commercial fisheries. Natural products from wetlands include starch, pulp and paper, rope, animal feed, roof and building material, furniture, upholstery filler, handicrafts, and additives to insulation boards, concrete, and plastic polymers.