World Wetlands Day 2009 -- France and Germany


WWD celebrates Europe's largest Transboundary Ramsar Site

Upstream downstream wetlands connect us all was the appropriate theme to celebrate Europes newest and largest Transboundary Ramsar Site stretching over 190 km along the Upper Rhine River (Oberrhein-Rhin supérieur) and covering nearly 50,000 ha on the German and French riverine forests, groundwater springs and related habitats, something like a small Amazonia in Western Europe. To this end, nearly 200 officials and wetland experts gathered in the nicely decorated Sander Hall of the small town of Willstätt on the Kinzig River, a tributary to the Upper Rhine that used to provide an important spawning area for Atlantic Salmon.

The Mayor of Willstätt hosted the celebration to present Peter Hauk, the Minister of Rural Affairs of the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg, and Regional Councillor Danièle Meyer of the Région Alsace, with the Ramsar site diploma. Ms Elsa Nickel of the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety, and Daniel Boulnois of the French Ministries of Ecology , Energy, Sustainable Development and Territorial Planning and of Housing and Towns (i.e., the French and German Ramsar Authorities), as well as Daniel Hoeffel, of the trilateral Oberrheinrat who coordinates the transboundary development in the region shared between France, Germany and Switzerland, underlined the outstanding importance of this natural and cultural landscape for biodiversity, to support the hydrological functions of one of Europes largest rivers, such as flood retention, groundwater replenishment, water purification and drinking water production, in an area intensively used since ancient times and loaded with turbulent history over the centuries. But finally, the Rhine is no longer an insurmountable border, but increasingly recognized as a connecting ecosystem by the communities on either side of its floodplain.

After a clarinet concert performed by a young local quartet, the above speakers were joined by additional experts from the Europarc Federation, Würzburg University, BirdLife Baden-Württemberg and Alsace Nature who addressed opportunities and perspectives for transboundary cooperation and development with a special focus on sustainable leisure and tourist activities. The Ramsar representative highlighted the important consequences of the embankment works undertaken in the middle of the 19th Century to construct an industrial channel for navigation and electricity production. This resulted in the loss of much of the river dynamics in its bifurcation zone. Large floodable areas were drained and turned into arable lands. To redress this evolution, the local stakeholders ask now for inter-sectoral cooperation across the national border to restore hydrological and biodiversity functions in many smaller parts of the Upper Rhine ecosystem. Fortunately, many companies extracting granulates from the Rhine floodplain are increasingly becoming aware of their potential to contribute to the restoration of such ecosystems, especially gravel beds important for amphibians and waterbirds, which used earlier to be created by river floods.

The participants launched the idea to create a network of Transboundary Ramsar Site managers, and promised to prepare for 2010 an even more important World Wetland Day celebration. They recognized that the transboundary Ramsar site designation was an important milestone after nearly 18 years of hard work. And added that this was not an end in itself, but hopefully the starting point for a truly transboundary programme for the future.

The celebration took place in the typical Rhine floodplain village of Willstätt.

The Mayor of Willstätt, Marco Steffens, opens the World Wetlands Day celebration .

The panel discussion on future transboundary cooperation in the Upper Rhine floodplain.

And a summer impression from Amazonia on the Upper Rhine (photo by Christian Meyer).

Une nouvelle page de l’histoire du Rhin supérieur
Ein historischer Moment für die Geschichte des Oberrheins

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