Ramsar COP7 DOC. 18.1


COP7's logo"People and Wetlands: The Vital Link"
7th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971),
San José, Costa Rica, 10-18 May 1999

 Ramsar COP7 DOC. 18.1

Technical Session III:
Involving people at all levels in the conservation and wise use of wetlands
Paper 1

Participatory processes to involve local communities and indigenous people in the management of wetlands

See also Resolution VII.8 from Ramsar COP7.

See also the case studies in support of this document.


1. Community involvement and participation in management decision-making for Ramsar and other wetland sites have been recognised as essential throughout the history of the Ramsar Convention, but very little guidance on this topic is available to the Contracting Parties. At the Third Meeting of the Conference of Contracting Parties (COP) held in Regina (Canada) in 1987, the benefits of wetlands for people were first given special emphasis as a rationale for the protection of wetlands. At this meeting the term "wise use" was defined as "the sustainable utilisation of wetlands for the benefit of humankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem", and a specific Recommendation (3.3) pointed the way towards greater community involvement in wetland management.

2. At the Montreux Meeting of the Contracting Parties in 1990, this was further amplified in the Appendix to Recommendation 4.10 (Guidelines for the implementation of the wise use concept). The recommendation includes provisions for:

the establishment, implementation and, as necessary, periodic revision of management plans which involve local people and take account of their requirements.

3. The emphasis was upon increasing awareness of decision-makers and the public of the benefits and values of wetlands, training of appropriate staff in the implementation of wetland policies, and reviewing traditional techniques of wise use. In other words, local people were seen as a source of information and knowledge for the decision-makers and staff to manage the resource wisely. Following this meeting, the Wise Use Project was set up to provide examples of wise use of wetlands.

4. The Wise Use Project reported to the Kushiro Meeting of the Contracting Parties in 1993 and in the Annex to Resolution 5.6 (Additional guidance for the implementation of the wise use concept) suggested that the Contracting Parties:

might establish procedures which guarantee that local communities are involved in the decision-making process related to wetland use, and provide local communities with sufficient knowledge of planned activities to ensure their meaningful participation in this decision-making process.

5. Under the section on integrated management planning, it was also suggested that:

a management authority charged with the implementation of the management process should be appointed; ... strong cooperation and participation from governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as from local people, needs to be achieved.

6. Further to the adoption of expanded guidelines for the implementation of the wise use of wetlands by the Montreux Conference in 1990, the Wise Use Working Group recommended that:

At local level, countries … establish procedures to guarantee that local populations are involved in the decision-making process related to wetland use and to provide local populations with sufficient knowledge of planned activities to assure their meaningful participation in this decision-making process. There should be working groups or advisory boards representing users, NGOs and local authorities.

General wise use legislation for wetlands should consider ... the institution of a system of management agreements between relevant government agencies, landowners and land users to provide positive management measures by the latter when this is required for the maintenance of the ecosystem.

Legislation for the conservation and wise use of specific wetland sites (e.g. Ramsar sites, ecologically sensitive areas, areas with a high degree of biodiversity, sites containing endemic species, wetland nature reserves) should consider:

  • the division of those wetlands into different zones with particular regulations,
  • the encouragement of traditional and other ecological and sustainable activities in these areas thorough incentives and advice,
  • the establishment of a management system in each area which should have legal support and of a management body to oversee the implementation and to ensure that regulations are observed;
  • the association of populations living in or close to the area with its management, through appropriate representation.

7. In general, the Group recognised that:

wetland management should be adapted to specific circumstances, sensible to local cultures and respectful of traditional uses. Management ... needs to be adapted to suit local conditions.

8. The Working Group’s conclusions were adopted in Resolution 5.6 by the Conference at its meeting in Kushiro, Japan, in 1993.

9. The evolution of the idea of local community involvement in wetland management is clear from the wording of the above reports and decisions and can be easily followed in the Ramsar Convention Manual (Ramsar Bureau,1997). At the beginning, there was a recognition of the interests and traditional uses which local communities have in wetlands throughout the world. This developed further to recognising the need to consult local people so that decision-makers and resource managers can take their interests into account. Finally, it became clear that local people need to be actively involved in the decision-making and management processes along with other interest groups.

10. Based on these important precedents, Recommendation 6.3 of the Brisbane Conference (1996) called upon the Contracting Parties "to make specific efforts to encourage active and informed participation of local and indigenous people at Ramsar listed sites and other wetlands and their catchments, and their direct involvement, through appropriate mechanisms, in wetland management."

11. The Parties assigned the Bureau of the Convention (secretariat), working with IUCN-The World Conservation Union, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Caddo Lake Institute (USA) and Kushiro International Wetlands Center (Japan), the task of developing guidelines to assist the Contracting Parties in such efforts.

The Project in Response to Recommendation 6.3

12. In response to Ramsar’s Recommendation 6.3, a project was set up by the IUCN Social Policy Group (SPG) in close coordination with a steering committee composed of representatives from the aforementioned organizations, plus the US NGO Ramsar Committee, which became actively involved in the process. The project began in May 1997 when the first of three workshops was held as part of the information gathering and knowledge sharing process. This first workshop, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, considered case studies from North America and the Neotropics region. At this same workshop the Steering Committee, through the Ramsar Bureau and the networks of its respective participants, distributed an announcement to Contracting Parties and NGOs involved in wetland management soliciting further case study proposals. Out of 60 proposals received, the project steering committee selected 21 case studies covering the seven Ramsar regions, to which were added two case studies from a previous IUCN project on ecosystems management (see attached list). These case studies represent a balanced variety of wetland ecosystem types, conservation issues, and forms of local involvement. In September 1997, the case study authors were sent detailed guidelines on topics to address in the case studies. SPG provided comments on first drafts, and authors submitted final drafts before the end of the year.

13. Following a request for support for this project from the Ramsar Convention Administrative Authorities, financial support was forthcoming from the Governments of Australia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

14. From the case study material, SPG synthesised the lessons learned and policy recommendations to produce a first draft of criteria and guidelines for local and indigenous people’s involvement in wetland management. This draft was circulated to all the case study authors, the steering committee and wetland management experts in February 1998, and two further technical workshops were organized in order to discuss case study findings and review the draft guidelines. The second workshop was held at the Kushiro International Wetlands Centre, Hokkaido, Japan, 2-4 March 1998, and involved case study authors from Asia and Oceania. The third technical workshop was held in conjunction with the American Wetlands Conference, Arlington, Virginia, USA, 16-17 April 1998, and involved case study authors from Africa, Europe, and Latin America and Caribbean. The technical discussions at these workshops, along with comments received from external reviewers, were incorporated into a subsequent draft of the guidelines, and a draft decision document was produced. These were reviewed by members of the steering committee in June, and then distributed for a much wider review by indigenous people’s organizations, practitioners of participatory natural resource management, and wetland experts. The present draft decision and annexed guidelines reflect the inputs of over 100 organizations and individuals around the world. They were endorsed by the 21st meeting of the Ramsar Convention Standing Committee for transmission to the 7th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties.

26 October 1998 - Ramsar Convention Bureau


Key: RS = Ramsar Site, PA = Protected Area, † = IUCN ecosystems management case study 

Name of siteCountry(ies)Wetland typeRS?PA?Socio-economic and demographic contextType of community involvementConservation issuesAuthor/contact information
Waza LogoneCameroonSahelian floodplainNoYesSubsistence farming, poverty, natural increase and migrationManagement committeesEncroachment on Waza Park for natural resources, grazing. Floodplain degradation, ecosystem restorationRoger Kouokom, IUCN’s Waza Logone Project
Rio Grande de BubaGuinea-BissauEstuaryNoNoPoor community, subsistence fishing and farmingFund that is collectively managed, and rules for fisheries access/mgtForest degradation, over fishingPhilippe Tous, Assistant Technique, Rio Grande de Buba, IUCN-Guinea Bissau
Diawling National ParkMauritaniaDelta, estuary, & mangrovesYes


YesPoor communities of Black Moors, Wolofs, fishing, mat makingCommunities involved in water management, surveillanceWetland was virtually destroyed by the Diama barrage. Reconstruction underway.Olivier Hamerlynck, IUCN-Mauritania
Djoudj National ParkSenegal DeltaYesYesWetland surrounded by major irrigation works; subsistence herding & agricultureParticipation in water and resource management; Management CommitteeEcosystem restoration. Illicit resource collection and depradations affecting ecosystemAmadou Matar Diouf, IUCN-Senegal
TangaTanzaniaReefs & mangrovesNoNoPoor subsistence fishing communitiesPilot villages, needs identification, collabor-ative management agreementDynamite fishing, over exploitation of fisheries, mangrove cutting for salt productionChris Horrill, IUCN-Tanga project
Yellow River DeltaChinaDelta, intertidal mud flatsNoYesDensely populated, farming, oil drillingFarms are part of the administration of the reserve. Townships consultedMigratory bird stop over; oil pollution, over-extraction of resources by villagersYan Chenggao, Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, Ministry of Forestry, & Yuan Jun, Wetlands International
Keoladeo National Park †IndiaWetlands, marshes,semi-arid forestsYesYesLocals use park for hunting, firewood collection, etc.Community participation in the process of implementationVery high density of biodiversity; World Heritage site; Conflict between park and localsBiksham Gujja, Wetlands Programme, WWF-International
Kampung Kuantan MalaysiaMangrove NoNoVillagers involved in tourism cooperativeBoat rides and exhibit center for tourismManagement problems with ecotourism and environmental pollutionJamil bin Hamzah, Dir. of Programme, Wetlands International-Asia Pacific
Yatsu Tidal FlatJapanTidal mud flatYesYesUpper income, densely settled urban areaEducation, researchLast mud flat in Tokyo Bay; industrial pollutants and urban runoffAkihito Hasegawa, Yatsu Tidalflat Nature Observation Center & Sadayosi Tobai, WWF-Japan
Morava River floodplainsSlovakiawetlands, oxbows, wet meadows, etc.YesYesFarming, new development initiatives; locals have close relation to landCooperation of NGOs, state administration, farmers in preparation of management planDecline in farming (mowing & cattle) is leading to declines in biodiversityJan Seffer, Daphne Foundation, Slovakia
Dubna wetlandRussiaSwamps, bogs and forestsNoYesClose to Moscow, rural farming areaProject conducts education / communications activities; new phase to beginMajor crane nesting ground, illegal hunting, drainage, and possible pumping for MoscowSmirnova Lena, Home-land of the Crane Programme, Biodiversity Conservation Centre
Le CesineItalyBrackish lakes behind dunesYes YesUpper incomeOpposition turned to support through education & income generationTourism development along coastNeida Finistauri, consultant to WWF-Italy and MedWet initiative
Pevensey LevelsUKWet grass-lands, former tidal marshesNoNoDensely settled, farmingLocal advisory council set up for management of wetlandHabitat of Fen Raft spider. Threats: upstream pumping, agricultureDavid Gasca-Tucker and Mike Acreman, Institute of Hydrology
Solway, Firth of Forth, Moray FirthScotland, UKCoastal estuariesYesYesUrban areas, farming.Forums bringing together different stakeholdersConstruction, urban fill, seawalls, dams, etc. threaten fish, seals, dolphin, and mud flat nestingStephen Atkins, Scottish Natural Heritage
Baia do CasteloBrazilFloodplain, seasonal and permanent lakesNoNoSmall cattle farms, subsistence fishing, and tourismLocals involved in research of the lake-river systemState of conservation basically good; natural fish killsDebora Calheiros, EMBRAPA-CPAP, Corumba, Brazil
El BalsarPeruArtificial wetlandNoYesIndigenous fishing communitiesCommunity led initiative; the fisherman’s association managesCultivation of reeds (scirpus californicus) for boat building; threat of urbanization and tourismVictor Pulido, Dept. of Biology, University Inca Garcilaso de la Vega
Grand Codroy EstuaryCanadaEstuaryYesYesAgriculture (hay fields and crops)Good steward agreements with local landowners; educational activitiesCritical habitat for several bird species; also supports bear, moose, beaver, red fox, etc. Mike Cahill, Chief of Conservation and Habitat, Dept. of Forest Reserves Newfoundland
Caddo Lake


USACypress swamps, lake and catchmentYesYesRural, small town, underdeveloped, agribusiness, forestry, oil & gas, sport fishingNGO network providing scientific and educational monitoring, (obs site)Need for locally appropriate environmental quality and management standards. Toxics loading by agriculture, oil & gas.Dwight Shellman, Caddo Lake Institute
Coastal wetlandsMexicoDeltas, estuaries, lagoons, mangrovesNoNo1,000 people in area, fishing, hunting, etc.Extensive efforts at education and local involvementWetlands have ecological, economic and social importance. Threat from agricultural runoff.Carlos Valdez & Elena Chavarria, Pronatura, Guaymas, Sonora
Sian Ka’an †MexicoCoastal wetlands, reefs, forestsNo


YesFishermen, fishing for spiny lobster, coconut palmeries, livestockResource-use rights to communities; zoning activitiesOver cutting of trees, opening of land to grazing, overfishingArturo Lopez Ornat, State Government of Quintana Roo
Tonda Wildlife Management AreaPapua New GuineaFreshwater floodplains & mangrovesYesYesIndigenous people, customary ownershipWWF assisting indigenous owners to develop management strategyArea split between PNG and Indonesia; illustrates complexity of cross-border management Paul Chatterton, consultant to WWF-Australia
Lake TeganoSolomon IslandsBrackish lake on coral atollNoNoIndigenous people, customary ownership, fishing, huntingWorking with indigenous owners towards establishing ecologically sustainable managementUnder consideration as a World Heritage siteElspeth Wingham, consultant, & Ben Devi, Ministry of Commerce and Tourism
Djelk wetlandsAustraliaLarge freshwater floodplainYesYesIndigenous peopleAboriginal freehold; they have exclusive use rightsControl of weed infestations, tourism, mining, etc.Max Finlayson, Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist

Texts of the Case Studies in PDF format.

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