European Archaeological Council presents strategy for heritage management of wetlands

30/01/2002

Launch of the EAC wetlands strategy

European Parliament, Brussels, 22nd January, 2002

Statement by Dr Adrian Olivier, President, Europae Archaeologiae Consilium (European Archaeological Council)

The Europae Archaeologiae Consilium (EAC) is a new organisation founded in 1999. It is a democratic network of heads of national services responsible under law for the management of the archaeological heritage in the Council of Europe member states. The EAC therefore represents the managers of the historic environment and the associated cultural heritage

The EAC is dedicated to the exchange of information between its members about standards and best practice related to heritage management. The collective membership of the EAC is well placed to offer advice and guidance about all aspects of heritage management and to develop broad-based strategies for archaeological heritage management on the basis of professional expertise. The EAC functions in an advisory and consultative mode and will liase and develop links in this context with international organisations that have an interest in the methods and goals of heritage management.

Time depth provides the information and meaning that allows us to understand the development of today's environment and place it in the context of the present. Knowledge is a pre-condition of good management; it is only when we understand how our environment developed that we can manage it properly, and in a sympathetic and sustainable fashion for the benefit of future generations

The EAC is therefore deeply concerned with all aspects of the management of today's environment and landscapes, particularly as they impact on the historic environment

Wetlands are a unique, precious, biodiverse, and extremely fragile ecosystem. Wetlands throughout Europe are under severe threat from drainage, water abstraction, conversion of pasture into arable land, peat wastage, peat erosion, peat extraction, and continued urban and industrial development. The pressure of these collective threats are so great that in some European countries as much as 50% of the original extent of wetlands has been lost over the past 50 years

As well as their natural environmental values, wetlands are also a unique cultural heritage resource. Because of the very specific and particular nature of the wetland environment, which excludes oxygen and associated agents of decay, wetlands contain extremely well-preserved organic material (especially wood). The archaeological evidence from wetland sites therefore includes a wealth of organic artefacts, the material evidence of the every day life of past societies which does not normally survive in other less favourable environments. Wetland archaeology therefore provides infinitely more information about past societies and landscapes than the equivalent evidence from dryland (and desiccated sites).

Wetlands also contain unique, valuable, and irreplaceable information about environmental and climatic change, from past millennia through to the present day, and give use the base line from which we can extrapolate the consequences of continuing change in the future.

This preservation of the material culture and the evidence of past environments is a fundamental characteristic of wetlands, as equally important as their well-recognised nature conservation and recreational values. The accelerating loss of wetland environments over Europe means that in some countries up to 78% of potential archaeological sites and monuments preserved for millennia in wetland landscapes have now been badly degraded or completely destroyed without any prior knowledge or scientific recording for posterity. In the immediate future, the threats to our wetlands (and their consequent destruction) are likely to increase as a result of predicted climate and sea level change, as well as the continuing pressures from development of different forms.

Because of the outstanding importance of wetlands for the cultural heritage, and because of the very serious pressures on this resource, the European Archaeological Council devoted the subject of its first Heritage Management Symposium (held in Strasbourg in 1999) to The Heritage Management of Wetlands in Europe. The proceedings of this symposium were published as the first volume of our series of Occasional Papers (the second volume - Europe's Cultural Landscapes: Archaeologists and the management of change will be published shortly in March 2002.

In consultation with the Ramsar Bureau we have developed a strategy for the heritage management of wetlands (which is included in the briefing pack which has been circulated today).

The four main elements of this strategy are:

· to promote the cultural heritage interests of wetlands in Europe;
· to promote practical mechanisms to conserve and protect the cultural heritage by developing guidance and best practice for the integration of cultural heritage and nature conservation in wetland management;
· to promote applied research to underpin and inform the management of wetlands;
· to promote and disseminate understanding of the cultural heritage of wetlands through continued programmes of survey and excavation as an essential precondition for the development of successful management policies.

The EAC is working closely with the Ramsar Bureau to realise these objectives and we are very conscious indeed that if we miss this opportunity to integrate the interests of the cultural heritage with those of nature conservation, it will never come our way again.

The Czech Republic was a founder member of the European Archaeological Council, and plays an active role in our work, so I am particularly pleased today to be able to welcome the Environment Minister of the Czech Republic. As a token of the increasingly close links that we are beginning to build with the world of nature conservation, it therefore gives me very great pleasure indeed to present to the Minister a copy of The heritage management of Wetlands in Europe.

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