Wetlands and cultural heritage conservation


Europæ Archaeologiæ Consilium


[reprint of the document adopted by the EAC General Assembly, Strasbourg, 22 March 2001]

Statement of intent

eac-logo.jpg (6571 bytes)1. Wetlands of all sorts were valuable resources and retreats for human populations, and carry the continuous record of human activity throughout the ages; human activity of some sort should be assumed in any and all wetlands. The cultural heritage is one of the diverse reasons why wetlands require active protection, and the cultural heritage component of wetlands requires active (rather than passive) management.

2. The EAC intends to make a positive contribution to the sustainable management of wetlands. We will work to ensure that the needs of the cultural heritage are properly considered in the management and wise use of wetlands, and that cultural heritage values are recognised alongside those of the natural heritage, by all organisations and agencies concerned with the protection and preservation of wetland environments.


3. Wetlands are a precious, bio-diverse environment with unique natural habitat and cultural heritage properties. In some European countries the loss of this environment has reached critical proportions. In the UK, for example, 90 per cent of blanket bogs and 94 per cent of raised bogs have already been lost to agriculture, forestry, landfill, and peat extraction for horticulture; it is thought unlikely that there are any raised bogs in England that have not been damaged by human activities and only c 3,845 hectares of raised bog survive in 'near natural' condition. Across Europe, raised bogs are considered so scarce that the European Union has declared it a priority habitat for international conservation [Wise Use and Conservation of Wetlands, Commission Communication to the Council and the European Parliament, 3 December 1999].

4. These increasingly destructive trends have resulted in the inevitable loss of a great deal of cultural heritage data. Nevertheless, a very large body of information about the archaeology and ancient environment of wetland landscapes has been gathered all over Europe throughout the last century, often by protracted campaigns of survey and excavation led by archaeologists specialising in the wetland environment. It is only recently, however, that the archaeological discipline has begun to consider the extremely complex issue of the long-term protection and management of wetland sites and landscapes for their cultural heritage values.

5. Organisations concerned with nature conservation, on the other hand, have a much longer and wider experience of protecting and preserving the flora and fauna of wetlands, and have amassed considerable experience and expertise in the management of wetland landscapes. Cultural heritage managers must not only make use of this experience and apply it directly to archaeological sites when appropriate, but must also ensure that the interests of the cultural heritage are properly taken into account in schemes aimed at the preservation and protection of the natural heritage of wetlands.

6. It is sometimes perceived that the interests of the cultural heritage and archaeology are at odds with the interests of nature conservation. Nature conservation measures which are beneficial to the natural environment (such as managed coastal retreat) can inadvertently damage archaeological remains but these problems can be avoided (or mitigated) if cultural heritage and nature conservation organisations work closely together. Such co-operation is essential if we are to protect and manage wetlands to our mutual benefit.

7. Public support for wetland conservation is a precondition for the long term preservation of what remains of these ecosystems, and for securing the significant resources that are required to restore wetlands that have been destroyed or severely damaged. Cultural components of wetlands in general, and archaeological aspects in particular, are an important feature which attracts the interest and support of sectors of society not necessarily engaged with nature conservation values.

8. Two recent news items demonstrate the complexity of these issues as well as some of the tensions that result from trying to reconcile the different needs of society in relation to wetlands, and further emphasise the critical importance of working to integrate cultural heritage and nature conservation, not just with each other, but also with wider interests and concerns.

9. In England, a 1,500 hectare farm, part of the North Kent marshes on the Isle of Sheppey, has ceased agricultural activity entirely and the farmer now derives his income solely from government conservation subsidies to manage the land for wildlife. This move to 'grow' wildlife won praise from nature conservation organisations, but caused concern among other farmers, and was not reported positively in much of England's press. In Greece, classical history and archaeology societies have joined environmental protesters to condemn the threat posed by plans to develop part of the Schinias marshes as an Olympic rowing complex; managers of the scheme claim that the development is environmentally positive and would actually halt the degradation of the marsh.

10. Examples of good practice in wetland management illustrate the mutual benefits and opportunities for nature conservation and heritage management and how it can be integrated in a broader socio-economic context. At the Federsee (Baden-Württemberg), for example, a multi-disciplinary approach unites the work of the state agencies for nature and monument conservation, agriculture, forestry, land, and property administration, and is supported by the European Union (LIFE and LEADER programmes).

11. This very successful project shows just how much can be achieved to protect and conserve all aspects of this internationally important bog where intensive agricultural use and lowering of ground water levels threaten the unique flora and fauna just as much the archaeological monuments. Measures adopted since 1990 at the Federsee include the expansion of nature reserves and the creation of archaeological reserves (by land purchase), stabilising the water balance and restoring groundwater levels in dried out areas of the bog, and the adoption and maintenance of more suitable agricultural practices which are compatible with the needs of conservation.

12. Successful long-term conservation of this sort also requires considerable popular and political support. A central concept which underpins work at the Federsee, is to encourage (rather than discourage) visitors, and provide them with a controlled opportunity to learn about the whole conservation process at first hand, but without damaging the intrinsic value of the bog. The combination of archaeology with the natural environment, as a single integrated resource, has proved to be a powerful and increasingly popular attraction to visitors, and tourist-related income derived from this now makes an important contribution to the local economy.

13. The purpose of this volume is to help raise the profile and importance of cultural heritage issues in the management of wetlands, particularly (but not exclusively) with regard to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971). By illustrating successful examples of good practice, we hope to show just how much can be achieved by the close and co-operative working of cultural heritage, nature conservation, and other state agencies, and we also hope that these examples may provide useful models which can be used (or adapted) by colleagues in other regions and countries. This volume is focussed on the European context, but we hope that it will also be valuable in helping address the same issues in other parts of the world.

EAC Strategy

14. The EAC Strategy for the heritage management of wetlands is based on four main principles:

  1. promoting cultural heritage interests of wetlands in the work of international and intergovernmental agencies;
  2. promoting 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;
  3. promoting applied research to underpin and inform the management of wetlands;
  4. promoting and disseminating 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.

International networks

15. The EAC will develop closer contacts with relevant international and inter-governmental agencies, including the Ramsar Convention, the Convention on natural and cultural heritage, UNESCO, the World Bank, and the Regional Activity Centres for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA).

16. The EAC will encourage other cultural heritage bodies to establish a close working relationship with the Ramsar Bureau and organisations working in the natural environment.

17. Wetlands are a very significant (and in some places still rapidly diminishing) international resource. It is extremely important to ensure that the long-term promotion and implementation of important conservation measures in one country (such as more effective peat extraction controls) does not have a negative impact by inadvertently adding to the commercial pressure in countries where the economic situation is less favourable, and where controls may not be so advanced or effective.

18. The EAC will work to co-ordinate national initiatives by its members to promote a more holistic international context to their work.

The Ramsar Convention

19. The Ramsar Convention now groups 123 countries. It promotes the conservation and wise use of wetlands, and requires participating governments to adopt policies reviewing existing national protective legislation, organisations, and systems of wetland management, and the development of wetland monitoring programmes, research, and public awareness. Ramsar’s system of designation by its Contracting Parties of Wetlands of International Importance for the Ramsar List should be particularly valuable to cultural heritage and archaeological interests in countries where wetland archaeological values are underfunded, or generally lack support. Ramsar designation could prove to be a useful tool for advancing cultural heritage interests in countries which for a variety of reasons make little or no investment in their wetland archaeological resource .

20. The EAC will work to foster partnerships between nature conservation and cultural heritage organisations and groups.

21. One of the problems consistently experienced by the Ramsar Bureau in working with countries at the national level is the lack of lateral communication between different government ministries and departments. Intra-national horizontal connections are encouraged through decisions taken at the regular meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Ramsar Convention (COP), especially in relation to establishing National Ramsar (or Wetlands) Committees.

22. The EAC will help to ensure that relevant Ramsar Contracting Parties (or rather the part of the government that acts as the Administrative Authority for the Ramsar Contracting Parties) are fully aware of cultural heritage issues in their country. As a first step, we will distribute this volume to each Administrative Authority for the Ramsar Contracting Parties in Europe.

Memorandum of Co-operation between the EAC and the Ramsar Convention

23. The EAC will explore with the Ramsar Bureau the possibility of a Memorandum of Co-operation between the two bodies concerning wetlands and cultural heritage issues.

24. The Ramsar Bureau has indicated its interest in developing this. A draft Memorandum of Co-operation will be placed before the EAC for consideration at the next full meeting of the Consilium in March 2002, so that it may be presented to the next Conference of Parties to the Ramsar Conventions (COP8) in November 2002.

Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention

25. The most appropriate mechanism for gaining recognition of the importance of cultural/heritage issues in the management of wetlands is through decisions (resolutions) adopted by each meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP). The next Ramsar COP will take place on 18-26 November 2002 in Valencia, Spain, and will include a technical session which will focus further attention on cultural issues.

26. The EAC will seek to play an active role in this technical session, and will work with the Ramsar Bureau to draft a resolution on cultural issues to place before COP8 through the Ramsar Standing Committee or a Contracting Party supportive of this initiative.

27. We will press for:

  1. links between Ramsar and national governments to include the part of government responsible for archaeology;
  2. inclusion of cultural heritage issues in reviews of existing national protective legislation, organisations, and systems of wetland management, and the development of national wetland monitoring and other research programmes;
  3. formal mechanisms such as a specialised working group of Ramsar’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) to examine and report on the cultural heritage aspects of wetlands and their contribution to the sustainable use of wetland resources.

UNESCO World Heritage Convention

28. Ramsar has a Memorandum of Co-operation with the World Heritage Convention, and both Conventions are now turning to its practical implementation. One aspect of this that is now being explored is an evaluation of the management of sites that that have been listed both as Ramsar and World Heritage sites (some are wholly natural heritage sites, but others are both cultural and natural heritage).

29. The EAC will work with the Ramsar Bureau to explore how the management of cultural heritage sites is dealt with through the WHC in relation to natural environment issues.

The World Bank

30. The World Bank recognises the importance of the cultural heritage to communities, and that the conservation of important cultural heritage is a part of the sustainable development process. The Environmental Assessment Sourcebook Update of The World Bank (September 1994) sets out clear procedures for integrating the cultural heritage in environmental assessment to ensure that development projects supported by the World Bank do not result in unacceptable damage to the cultural heritage. These procedures include a range of inputs directly related to the cultural heritage which must be included in all assessment planning (and subsequent mitigation). It is essential that in addition to the direct handling of cultural heritage issues, the World Bank is also fully aware of the hidden cultural heritage potential of wetlands, and of appropriate ways to avoid, minimise, and mitigate damage to the heritage component of this natural resource.

31. The EAC will seek to enter into a dialogue with the Environment Department of the World Bank to highlight the particular problems of wetlands, and the inadvertent impact on the wetland heritage of development works which may include drainage or other changes to groundwater levels.

32. The EAC will seek to contribute to training in heritage conservation and management for projects with wetland and heritage issues, and will explore with the World Bank ways of assessing and monitoring relevant management plans.

Conservation and management

33. Legislation at the national or state level protects cultural heritage sites, either directly, in the case of specific sites, or more generally through land management, planning, or zoning measures which may provide other forms of protection and mitigation. Entirely different legislation also protects and conserves natural areas in which cultural heritage sites may coincidentally be located.

34. It is important to recognise, however, that natural heritage designations may not in practice always offer cast iron protection. Although they may be supportive of other measures, such designations do not, by themselves, guarantee the intact survival of designated wetlands, but must be supplemented by realistic management schemes. It is in the implementation of such management schemes that it is essential to integrate cultural heritage values and concerns with nature conservation and management practices.

35. In recent years, there has been considerable debate in meetings of the Ramsar Convention (and those of its subsidiary bodies) about how best to address cultural aspects of wetlands within the framework of the Convention. The Ramsar Convention is now working to promote better awareness of cultural and historical issues in wetland management.

36. The EAC and its constituent members will work closely with the Ramsar Bureau (the Convention’s secretariat) and other partners to ensure that cultural heritage issues are fully incorporated into guidelines for wetland management through whatever means may be most practical and appropriate.

37. The International Peat Society and International Mires Conservation Group have recently collaborated to produce a draft Global Action Plan for Peatlands and are currently developing substantive 'Wise use guidelines for peatlands'.

38. The EAC will work with the Ramsar Bureau to incorporate cultural heritage management issues in both these important documents.

Research initiatives

39. An understanding of cultural aspects of wetlands is an essential element in the sustainable management of wetland resources, but there is apparently little recognition by decision-makers and wetland managers of the importance of cultural issues in sustainable wetland management. There is a pressing need to establish consistent information on the extent to which cultural heritage issues have been taken into account in wetland conservation programmes throughout Europe, and then to develop practical means to encourage further integration where appropriate.

40. The EAC will develop proposals for a trans-European programme of applied research - to be jointly funded by its own membership, the European Union, and other appropriate agencies - to support the integration of cultural heritage and natural environmental concerns in wetland management strategies and to establish adequate baseline information about cultural heritage components of existing wetland management plans.

41. This should include a number of complementary components:

  1. cross-sector mechanisms to ensure shared understanding by all relevant institutions and decision-makers of the significance of cultural heritage issues. A great deal of ground work has already been done in some countries by EAC member organisations, but the results need to be more effectively disseminated and shared with the nature conservation community, so that it can be better integrated with the management process. It is hoped that the publication and dissemination of this volume is a first step in achieving this goal;
  2. a review of frameworks for the protection of the cultural heritage of wetlands (including policy and planning regulations). It is necessary to consider how to make existing frameworks and measures act more effectively and whether there is a need for specific designations for the protection of wetland cultural heritage sites. As a first step, Marsden's review (this volume) needs to be supplemented with relevant information from the constituent membership of the EAC;
  3. a review of legal and institutional frameworks for the management of wetlands to ensure that national policies, strategies, and plans incorporate cultural heritage as well as socio-cultural issues at a national and site level;
  4. the continued development by EAC members of survey programmes and local databases of cultural heritage information for incorporation into conservation management plans for wetland resources. This will provide an easily accessible inventory of heritage components related to wetlands in member countries, and also identify wetlands with the greatest archaeological potential that may be suitable for additional protection;
  5. the development of an inter-disciplinary approach which brings together natural science, cultural heritage, and conservation and management interests with those of local communities, and which can be used as an educational resource to broaden popular and political support for wetland conservation.

Specific mechanisms

42. Mechanisms to improve the integration of heritage management issues with the concerns of the natural environment in the conservation and management of wetlands will include:

  1. the creation of formal links and on-going liaison between EAC members and institutions responsible for the management of the wetland resource (nationally and locally); it is important to ensure that heritage management organisations are aware of plans for projects related to sustainable development of wetlands, and conversely to ensure that plans for engineering and socio-economic projects that impact on wetlands incorporate heritage as well as natural environment and biodiversity issues from the outset;
  2. the development of mechanisms to ensure that the results of cultural heritage wetlands research is incorporated into good management guidelines and practices;
  3. the inclusion of heritage considerations in all impact assessments of wetland development and management projects;
  4. the development of guidelines for heritage aspects of wetland management;
  5. the development of an agreed methodology to identify the different values of wetland sites and to help prioritise the application of appropriate management techniques to the protection of significant or designated areas;
  6. the provision of guidance to the Ramsar Contracting Parties for the inclusion of cultural heritage aspects in the conservation and wise use of wetlands through the preparation of guidelines supported by a draft decision to be adopted at Ramsar COP8 in 2002;
  7. the development of appropriate procedures to monitor and maintain the environmental status of wetlands and to monitor illegal or accidental damage to the wetland cultural heritage;
  8. the development of a manual (in the form of model site management plans) for the conservation and enhancement of the cultural heritage of wetlands, which will include practical conservation solutions which identify and minimise possible conflicts of interest at an early stage in the management cycle; this manual could form part of the additional management planning guidelines (in the Ramsar handbook series).

Applied research projects

43. There is a fundamental need throughout Europe for co-ordinated research, into a number of specific topics to inform the management of the wetland cultural heritage resource. Potential topics include:

  1. research into historic models of wetland exploitation which might contribute to their sustainable management in the future, and inform management issues related to drainage, agricultural intensification etc, so that evidence from the past can be used to avoid irreversible change in the future;
  2. research into the effects of rewetting on organic archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence which has dried out enough to cause damage, but not enough to lead to the total decay of the evidence; this includes issues of water quality, and the need for further experimental work;
  3. research into the hydrology of cultural heritage sites in wetlands, and techniques to evaluate the impact on their hydrology of proposed developments;
  4. research into developing new methods and techniques to identify cultural heritage sites in wetlands, so that the cultural heritage component of wetlands can be more effectively assessed and evaluated in advance of proposed developments;
  5. research into the preservation of archaeological remains in situ in order to gather and analyse reliable information about the changing burial environment of wetland sites;
  6. research into appropriate mechanisms to balance educational and recreational access to wetlands with the need to protect and preserve the intrinsic values of their flora, fauna, and cultural heritage;
  7. commissioned research into social attitudes towards wetlands across Europe to help quantify and qualify the hitherto undefined strength of feeling towards this environment, and to determine and encourage levels of public support towards wetland conservation as a basis for the promotion, management, protection, interpretation, and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage of wetlands.

44. The EAC will seek to facilitate the establishment of such international multidisciplinary research projects funded from appropriate sources (including the European Union) and will encourage its members to attach a high priority to participating in work of this nature.


45. Continued programmes of survey and excavation are essential in order to identify and understand the cultural heritage of the wetlands, and to underpin the work of heritage management agencies. Central authorities must be aware of the extent and potential of their cultural heritage wetland resource if they are to be persuaded of the need for firm control to prevent its continued erosion and degradation.

46. The EAC, with its partners, will help co-ordinate wetlands research programmes and disseminate the results to heritage managers. We will develop a directory of recent and current programmes, projects, and activities, to help ensure that our members can provide relevant and well-informed professional input into management plans.

47. This volume provides a starting point to give cultural heritage managers across Europe access to the considerable experience of wetland archaeologists, and to highlight the potential of different approaches to the cultural heritage of wetlands.

48. The EAC will encourage the development of a pan-European research framework for the cultural heritage of the wetlands.

49. The EAC will continue to work to ensure that all European heritage agencies are fully aware of the nature and values of wetland archaeology and the critically important contribution of wetland studies to an understanding of the past, and to help continue to develop the technical expertise that is necessary to underpin the heritage management of wetlands.

50. There is a need to communicate effectively to the public the excitement and significance of the cultural heritage of wetlands and its important role in integrating approaches to the cultural heritage and the natural environment.

51. The EAC will explore the possibility of sponsoring (with other partners)a major international travelling exhibition on the cultural heritage of wetlands.

Adrian Olivier
President, Europæ Archaeologiæ Consilium

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