Eurosite ceremony, Steenwijk, The Netherlands, 24 September 1999


Statement by Delmar Blasco, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

at the Eurosite Ceremony

24 September 1999

It gives me great pleasure to be here at this Eurosite Ceremony with the specific purpose of signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands and the network of organizations managing Europe’s natural heritage, Eurosite.

Before going any further, let pay tribute to the host of this year’s Eurosite Annual General Assembly and event, the Staatsbosbeheer, the National Forest Service of the Netherland, which as we all know is celebrating its centennial anniversary. There is no doubt that we can all gain from these many years of experience of the National Forest Service managing forests, an experience that in many cases surely can be extrapolated to other ecosystems, since some of the basic rules of managing natural resources for environmental conservation and peoples’ well being are the same in all cases. I congratulate the Staatsbosbeheer on this very significant anniversary and hope that the Convention on Wetlands will also have the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom that the Service has accumulated over this 100 years.

The MOU that we are signing today with Eurosite is precisely about managing natural resources, and more specifically in this case, the so-called "Ramsar sites" in Europe, as well as in West and East Africa.

Let me recall very briefly what are "Ramsar sites" and their significance. Article 2.1 of the Convention on Wetlands, also known as the "Ramsar" Convention after the name of the Iranian city on the Caspian Sea where the treaty was signed in 1971, specifies that "each Contracting Party shall designate suitable wetlands for inclusion in a List of Wetlands of International Importance". So, over the years, the sites included in the "Ramsar List" have become known as "Ramsar sites". Today, the 116 countries that have adhered to the Convention have designated 1005 sites for inclusion in the List. These sites cover an area of 71,639,773 hectares, or twice the size of Germany.

In Europe, including the Asian part of the Russian Federation, and excluding the overseas territories dependent upon some European countries, there are 639 sites, or 63.5% of the total, covering an area of some 19 millions hectares, which in turn represents 27% of the total area. Also in Europe the number of sites and area covered varies greatly from country to country. Concerning numbers, the UK is at the top of the list in the Convention as a whole, with 138 sites. Other European countries have designated so far only the one site that is obligatory upon accession to the Convention.

In spite of the weaknesses that could be identified in the Ramsar List when making a thorough analysis of its significance, the fact of having those 1005 sites formally recognized as wetlands of international importance constitutes a remarkable achievement. And the List is growing: it is rare that a month goes by without having received at the Convention secretariat several new designations for the List.

Since the entering into force of the Convention in 1975, those two lines in Article 2.1 of the treaty text that established the Ramsar List have been interpreted and developed through a number of recommendations, resolutions and guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Contracting Parties in the seven meetings that have been held since its first one in 1980. Yet, until now the Ramsar List has grown in a somewhat anarchic manner. To change this state of affairs, the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties held in Costa Rica last May, adopted the so-called Strategic Framework and guidelines for the future development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance. The purpose of the Strategic Framework "is to provide a clearer view, or vision, of the long term targets or outcomes which the Convention is seeking to achieve through the Ramsar List". Guidance is also provided to assist Contracting Parties in taking a systematic approach to identifying their priorities for future designations, in order to create comprehensive national networks of Ramsar sites, which, when considered at the global level, fulfil the stated vision for the Ramsar List, which is "to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the ecological and hydrological functions they perform".

But establishing such a global network through a systematic designation of Ramsar sites is only the beginning of the equation. The ultimate goal is to maintain those sites in good ecological condition, so that the two purposes included in the vision for the List -- biodiversity conservation and the sustenance of human life -- can be insured in the long term, for the benefit of present and future generations.

And it is in this area where the MOU between the Ramsar Bureau and Eurosite is highly relevant. An analysis of the National Reports submitted by the Contracting Parties in late 1998, in preparation of the Costa Rica Conference in May this year, revealed that there were management plans in place or being prepared for 44% of the Ramsar sites, and that there was some form of monitoring going on in 38% of them. The target for the next Conference of the Parties in 2002 is to have management plans in preparation, or in place, for at least three quarters of the Ramsar sites in each Contracting Party, and it is expected that all Parties will seek to ensure that these plans are implemented in full.

At the same time, the Costa Rica Conference requested the Scientific and Technical Review Panel of the Convention to prepare for the next meeting in 2002 additional guidance on management planning as recommended by the review undertaken of the existing guidance.

I have put at the disposal of participants at this meeting a one-page information paper entitled "Ramsar prepares to publish its ‘toolkit’", with the list of the series of nine Ramsar Handbooks that are under preparation for publication in the three official languages (English, French and Spanish) by the end of this year. While Handbook number 8 will contain specifically the Frameworks for managing Wetlands of International Importance and other wetlands, all the other handbooks are very relevant to management planning and implementation. They deal with issues such as the wise use of wetlands, community participation, integrating wetlands conservation into river basin management, education and public awareness, and international cooperation.

So, the Convention is putting at the disposal of Contracting Parties a "toolkit" that, while not yet totally completed, contains all the elements for an effective implementation of the Convention on Wetlands, so that its mission of achieving the "conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world" can effectively be fulfilled.

The Convention Bureau looks forward to a close and fruitful cooperation with the Eurosite network. The Convention can gain a lot from your expertise and experience and your well rooted presence in a good number of European countries. And the Convention can offer to Eurosite the framework of an intergovernmental treaty that is gaining in influence and recognition.

The tasks to bring sustainability to our planet still remain a daunting challenge. Each one of us should do our utmost to find complementarities with others, so that our limited resources can be used in the most effective manner. I am very pleased to see that this is precisely what we are doing here today.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Ramsar and Eurosite, 24 September 1999

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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