Transboundary Ramsar Sites in eastern Europe
Report from the Study Tour on several selected Transboundary Ramsar sites in East Europe
28th April - 5th May 2007
-- Monica Zavagli, Ramsar
A study tour of transboundary Ramsar sites took place in Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina from the 28th April to the 5th May 2007 under the coordination of Ms Libuse Vlasakova, Ramsar Administrative Authority in the Czech Republic.
The idea of the study tour was born in June 2004 when the Trilateral Ramsar Platform (TRP) for the Morava-Dyje-Danube floodplains - a great example of implementation of Article 5 of the Ramsar Convention - was signed and the three Contracting Parties involved, Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, expressed the need to gain more field experience for developing good common strategies and practices for the transboundary management of the area through the observation of the already existing Transboundary Ramsar Sites in the region. ["Transboundary Ramsar Site" signifies a cooperative arrangement in which, when an ecologically coherent wetland extends across national borders, the Ramsar site authorities on both or all sides of the border have formally agreed to collaborate in its management, and have notified the Secretariat of this intent.]
The study tour brought together 18 participants from Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, all of them directly involved in the TRP management through local institutions, government and NGOs, as well as a representative from the IUCN Regional Office in Belgrade and a representative from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
The Ramsar sites that were visited are Neusiedlersee, Seewinkel (Austria); Lake Fertö (Hungary); Kopacki Rit (Croatia); Lonjsko Polje & Mokro Polje (Croatia); Bardaca (Bosnia & Herzegovina); Hutovo Blato (Bosnia & Herzegovina); and Neretva Delta (Croatia).
In each Ramsar site, we were warmly welcomed by the site manager and in some cases also by the local authorities; detailed information and maps were always promptly provided, accompanied together with field trips within the Ramsar sites. Furthermore, through the RS managers' help, it was possible to arrange our accommodation in local houses and farms in order to promote sustainable ecotourism (with also the chance to happily taste the local delicious dishes and products!).
Many different aspects of the Ramsar site management were considered and discussed together with the experts during each visit, starting from local problems, like reed bed or invasive species management to more complicated transboundary and political issues.
Each Ramsar site - in addition to having an immense variety of beautiful habitats and biodiversity richness - showed to have its very own peculiarities, needs and strengths.
Ramsar sites like Neusiedler See (www.nationalpark-neusiedlersee-seewinkel.at) and Lake Fertö (www.ferto-hansag.hu) - officially declared as a transboundary National Park - are probably the most experienced ones in transboundary cooperation at high and local levels. They also established common management programs as well as an Austrian-Hungarian NP Commission which coordinates the most important actions in the area of land management, research and public relations for both parts.
It has to be said that in many cases the Ramsar site status is just the first step of an empowering process which often leads to the declaration of the site as Nature or National park status. Delta Neretva (www.rec.org/REC/Programs/REPEP/biodiversity/neretva) is the testimony of a Ramsar site that has the necessity to become at least Nature Park in order to strengthen the local environmental policies and to assure sufficient protection from the many threats daily faced by this unique delta area.
A great example of implementation of "river basin management " and "wise use of wetlands" concepts was provided by Lonjsko Polje RS (www.pp-lonjsko-polje.hr) where the flood control system is based on the use of natural retention areas and indigenous people are actively engaged in a planning process to protect the natural and cultural local heritage.
Kopacki Rit RS (www.kopacki-rit.com) as well as Lonjsko Polje also offered very good examples of sustainable practices to eradicate the invasive alien species Amorpha fruticosa (False Indigo) by promoting local breeds of the Slavonian Grey Cattle.
Common difficulties shared amongst all the Ramsar sites were related to over-exploitation of the natural resources, especially hunting and fisheries, but also to extensive agriculture associated with the use of pesticides and lack of financial support for wetland restoration. This year, another evident problem is also the increasing drought due to the climate changes which could in the near future become the most serious threat for wetland conservation and wise use.
In Bardaca (http://www.bardaca.dzaba.com/) and Hutovo Blato (www.hutovo-blato.ba.hr), both in Bosnia & Herzegovina - despite the strong commitment of the site managers and their teams in preserving these amazing reservoirs of biodiversity and beauty - it is felt that they really need a much stronger financial aid and support from their government and from the international community.
Such an instrument like the Ramsar Small Grants Fund has already been demonstrated to be very fruitful in promoting both rural development and also in establishing transboundary cooperation between neighboring countries, but much more has to be done. Further important assistance for this area of South East Europe could be to seek funding opportunities through the IUCN Green Belt project (www.iucneurope.org), which aims to promote cooperation between countries through the improvement of local land uses and nature conservation, and also through the valuable activities established by the Regional Environmental Centre (www.rec-croatia.hr).
This experience has been a powerful tool for raising a great awareness and knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of the Ramsar sites visited. It helped sharing experiences and methods, reflecting on possible solutions, and developing productive new ideas for the implementation of better strategies for wetland conservation. It has been a two-side exchange from which the study tour participants and the local site managers and experts have deeply mutually benefited.
Of course, the short time available (and the rain in the last days!) in many cases did not allow to have either long discussions or a visit to all the beauties of those wetlands, but one thing is sure: the passion and commitment for nature conservation shared together with the local site managers, the friendship built amongst the people that have shared the adventure of this study tour make of this experience a concrete example of what "transboundary" cooperation means, beyond any border, beyond any political issue.
The reed bed in Neusiedler See National Park/ Ramsar Site
Local breeds of Ratzka sheep as genus reservoir for this species which is protected within the Lake Fertö National Park/Ramsar Site
Tibor Mikuška, biodiversity Conservationist of Kopacki Rit RS, showing a colony of 40,000 Cormorants.
Wolfgang Pelikan, Monica Zavagli, Johann Wöesendorfer & the white stork on the roof a typical restored wooden house in Cigoc Village - Lonjsko Polje RS.
Lonjsko Polje RS: the Study Tour Group with the park director: Goran Gucic (on the left)
Bardaca RS: the Mayor of the town, Mihjalo Marcovic, (Viktor Bjelic) and Iskra Mihic welcoming the study tour group.
Geese of Hutovo Blato RS.
Wet in the Wetland -Hutovo Blato Ramsar Site
Opportunity to learn more about water management
Neretva Delta RS.
White water Lilies in Neretva Delta Ramsar Site.