4th European regional meeting on the Ramsar Convention, Bled, Slovenia, 13-18 October 2001

26/11/2001

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4th European Regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention, Bled, Slovenia, 13-18 October 2001

Report of the

4th European Regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention

Bled – Slovenia – 13-18 October 2001

INTRODUCTION

The Meeting was held on 15-17 October 2001 at Grand Hotel Toplice in Bled, Slovenia, and was attended by 141 participants, representing 38 Contracting Parties in the European Region (of a total of 44), nine international organisations, and a number of non-governmental organisations and invited experts.

The programme and annotated agenda, aims of the Meeting, detailed participants list and texts of most of the presentations given in the six plenary and technical sessions, as well as further information on the Meeting, is available in English (and partly also in French) at the Ramsar Bureau Web site:

www.ramsar.org/caxref:2465

The following Conclusions and Recommendations are based on the presentations made during the closing plenary session by the rapporteurs of the individual sessions.

Synthesis

Key Issues for the Work of the Convention in Europe

The Ramsar Convention in Europe – Europe in the Ramsar Convention

1. Europe is a densely populated continent with many countries and a high cultural complexity. Europe is rich in boundaries, with a long history of human modification and management of wetlands, including high rates of historic wetland loss and increasing land-use pressures throughout the continent.

2. The membership of the Convention in the European Region is virtually complete with 44 Contracting Parties and only Andorra, San Marino and the Holy See missing. The European Region holds 62 per cent of the Ramsar Sites so far designated by the 130 Parties to the Convention, and 34 per cent of all Contracting Parties. European Parties contribute 41 per cent of the Convention’s budget. Thus, Europe has a global leadership role in providing adequate resourcing for the Convention.

3. The inventory of wetlands is an essential and strategic foundation for wetland conservation. Yet, no comprehensive wetland inventory exists in any European country.

4. Water resource issues are major cross-cutting issues for wetland conservation. The European Union Water Framework Directive provides a major opportunity to advance Ramsar’s aims in the EU Member and Accession States.

5. The designation of Ramsar Sites should be seen as the start of a process leading to effective conservation and wise use, not as the end point. Site management needs to be considered within wider contexts. Most biodiversity lies outside protected areas.

6. With a few exceptions, there are still only few systematic reviews of national site networks available. The Region still lacks a clear framework and priorities for Ramsar Site designations. Currently, there is a large number of small sites, unevenly distributed and biased towards certain wetland types.

7. The relationship between the EU legal framework and Ramsar obligations needs to be explored in more detail. What is the relationship between the Natura 2000 network and the Ramsar List? How should either network be developed, and its legal interpretation, specially with regard to Articles 2.5, 3.2 and 4.2 of the Ramsar Convention? How can Parties best advance Ramsar’s objectives by using EU policy instruments?

8. Sustainable development links wetland values, goods and services more explicitly to poverty alleviation and sustainable development issues to be addressed by the September 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, Rio+10) and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The national Ramsar Administrative Authorities need to coordinate within governments in the run-up to WSSD to ensure that Ramsar’s message will be clearly heard.

9. Incentives for unwise use are still a reality. Perverse economic incentives need to be addressed and obtain a higher profile as a key issue affecting wetlands. More information is needed on problems and issues, illustrated by cases studies, and policy solutions.

10. Transboundary wetlands provide good examples of wise use, e.g. the Lower Green Danube Corridor, but there are many more opportunities. How best to use existing international waterway agreements? Can we enhance their biodiversity content?

11. National Ramsar Committees provide an important mechanism for the implementation of the Convention, specifically for federal coordination, coordination between sectors (e.g. water, agriculture, transport) and the development of synergies within government.

12. Don’t forget the coasts. Integrated coastal (habitat) management plans need to include wetland conservation and wise use, possibly taking entire upstream river catchments into account.

13. Wetland management planning needs now to tie the strands together by incorporating heritage values, biodiversity, water resources, and socio-economic issues. Adaptable management methods foresee for essential monitoring needs. Contracting Parties need to be equipped with the necessary monitoring tools.

14. The cultural importance of wetlands is a fundamental issue affecting the delivery of appropriate management and wise use. Our engagement with new and different stakeholders needs to be developed.

15. Education programmes need a more strategic approach by clarifying who we should be targeting: children, water resources managers, decision-makers within government, the agricultural sector? Education is not an optional extra.

16. The Convention should become more engaged with the agriculture sector at national and international levels, dealing with water resource management conflicts, diffuse pollution sources, widespread decline of European breeding waders, and the loss of traditional low-intensity agricultural systems (e.g., lowland wet grasslands).

17. A crucial motto: connect large-scale issues to local issues.

Plenary Sessions

The Ramsar Work Plan 2000-2002 and National Targets, National Wetland Policies and National Ramsar/Wetland Committees

18. A key emerging issue is striking the balance between addressing the overall wise use of all wetlands in each Party and focusing on the designation of further Ramsar Sites. Contracting Parties should seek to embed their designation of sites within a sustainable management approach – both in situ and in the water catchment context.

19. Contracting Parties should ensure that the designation of Ramsar Sites is treated as the starting point for sustainable management – but there is a general lack of proper monitoring to assess whether delivery of management is achieving sustainability, and this should become a prioritiy.

20. Contracting Parties should contribute to the preparation of the 2003-2005 Ramsar Work Plan by clearly identifying their national targets and priorities for the next triennium, such that regional and global targets of the Convention can be more country-driven. Subject to approval by the Standing Committee, the Ramsar Bureau will prepare a questionnaire to assist Contracting Parties to elaborate national targets prior to COP8.

21. National Ramsar/Wetland Committees, particularly where their membership is cross-cutting (different sectors, government and non-governmental organisations) are an important and powerful tool for the Convention’s national implementation, but the issue of sufficient resourcing for Committees to function effectively needs further attention.

22. National Wetland Strategies and Plans are, in Europe, often linked to Biodiversity Action Plans, but it is essential that wetlands and wetland species should be clearly addressed within these plans, and that they fully address Ramsar issues and implementation.

The National Planning Tool and Reporting for COP8

23. Use of the format is currently focused largely on its role as the National Report Format for COP8, and has as yet been little used for the more strategic National Planning Tool – its further use in setting national targets should be a priority. However, it is recognised that in at least some European countries strategic planning and targeting is already undertaken as a separate process, and ways of linking this to the National Planning Tool need further attention.

24. Overall, the National Report Format is recognised as a helpful advance in supporting European Contracting Parties in their national reporting, but has some limitations and problems.

25. The National Report Format is complex and there are some difficulties in correctly completing the forms – for future triennia these need resolving, including:

  • difficulties in the extent of cross-linking of questions and different actions; with redundancy in some questions, and
  • problems of only being able to answer yes or no, since in many cases the actual situation is somewhere between these two extremes. This is especially the case where the situation differs in different parts of a country.

26. Efforts should contribute to better integrate the questions and reporting process between environmental conventions, and the completion of the UNEP pilot studies on streamlining reporting will provide essential guidance – but it is recognised that this is a complex process.

27. Focal points of the different environmental conventions should collaborate on the inclusion of information on common topics in their respective reporting formats, and future CBD-Ramsar Joint Work Plans should look further at opportunities for this.

The draft Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008

28. The draft Strategic Plan is intended to be dynamic, capitalising on past experiences, and addressing new challenges. It has a simplified structure, following the three pillars of the Ramsar Convention and a logical framework analysis. Its emphasis is on implementation – from general objectives to operational targets and concrete actions, through strategic planning.

29. The subgroup of the Standing Committee on the Strategic Plan helped to improve the structure of the draft Strategic Plan and the clarity of the document, and raised a number of substantive issues:

  • reviewing policies and legislation,
  • taking into account new initiatives,
  • the role of wetlands for water,
  • conserving wetlands vs restoration,
  • facing threats,
  • participation of local communities.

30. The Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet) recognises that the Mediterranean Wetland Strategy adopted in 1996 (based on the Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002) is now outdated and should be replaced by the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008. The globally important issues water quality, toxic pollution, applied research, and wetland management are also of major concern in the Mediterranean Region.

31. It was noted that the following topics should be adequately addressed in the new Strategic Plan:

  • recognize intrinsic wetland values that limit the sustainable use of wetland resources,
  • clarify the difference between sustainable use vs sustainable development,
  • accommodate wetland needs in sustainable development planning,
  • address concern about all wetlands vs those of international importance only,
  • develop specific actions to accommodate agricultural practices and wetland management,
  • incorporate the results of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Technical Sessions at Ramsar cop8 in 2002

Wetlands and Management of Surface and Groundwater: Ramsar and the Water Management Agencies (Workshop 1)

32. Stronger integration is needed between ecological aspects (ecosystems approach, water cycle and catchment basin approach, migratory species, aquatic habitats) and traditional water resource management practices.

33. Include planning for wetland conservation and restoration within each river basin. For countries concerned, such planning is a logical tool to fulfil the obligations of the European Union Water Framework Directive.

34. Make sure that coastal areas, whenever relevant, are included in river basin management plans.

35. There is a need to listen to and understand the arguments coming from stakeholders, including land owners, when negotiating river basin planning. The principles of the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters may be of relevance.

Synergies with Conventions in the Areas of Biodiversity, Migratory Species, Desertification, Climate Change, and Protected Areas (Workshop 2)

36. Collaboration and synergies between environmental conventions need to take place at three levels: global, regional, and national. They should produce high added value for the mobilisation of expertise and resources, notably to influence international policies, to further develop international treaties, to create supra-national legislation (e.g. EU Directives), and to initiate high-level processes (e.g. Ministerial Conferences).

37. The effective creation of synergies is often hindered by the missing coordination between different departments of national administrations, by limited coordination at regional and global level, and by the lack of adequate means, including human and financial resources.

38. Major opportunities for synergies at European level are provided by the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy (PEBLDS), coordinated by the Council of Europe and UNEP, the UN-ECE conventions on transboundary watercourses, and the EU Water Framework Directive.

39. Eight countries in the Black Sea region (Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, the Russian Federation, Turkey, and Ukraine) discussed the urgent need to follow up the recommendations of the workshop on Black Sea coastal wetlands held in Odesa in September 2000 and the project proposal by Wetlands International "Initiation BlackSeaWet". Ukraine, in the name of all eight Contracting Parties, called the Meeting to support this initiative, which was approved unanimously in plenary session.

40. The UK develops Habitat and Species Action Plans, using the ecosystems approach, focusing on processes and functions, to translate the Joint Work Plan of CBD and Ramsar at global level into a national programme.

41. UNEP established an Open-ended Group of Ministers or their Representatives on International Environmental Governance to present proposals to the WSSD in September 2002, including the issue of clustering environmental conventions into a biodiversity-related group, a group of atmoshpere-related conventions, and a group of conventions related to chemicals. Ramsar Administrative Authorities should ensure that the perspectives and interests of the Convention are taken into account by the delegations participating in this process.

Wetland Inventory, Assessment and Monitoring (Workshop 3)

42. It is urgent to develop national wetland inventories. Scale definition is crucial for the purposes of the inventory, especially concerning biodiversity. Wetland inventory and assessment provides a vital basis for the development of national wetland policies, designation and management of Ramsar Sites and other wetlands. A wide accessibility of the inventory results must be guaranteed.

43. Core data need to be defined to allow for later assessment of trends in wetland loss/changes, risk assessment, and warning indicators. Guidance on measuring ecological character is needed, covering the tools available for its assessment and monitoring. Indicators of external pressures on wetland sites should be developed.

44. Costs of inventories may be a limiting factor. To optimise resource use, existing information should be used effectively, low-cost technologies (GIS and remote sensing) may be useful, and decentralizing data gathering and managment may be a way to reduce costs, while maintaining a common framework at the national level.

45. Sharing of experience and mutual support is encouraged. Synergies may exist with appropriate networks for wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring, such as the MedWet Initiative, Natura 2000, or the Pan-European Ecological Network (PEEN). Increase of international cooperation is recommended, especially in central Europe regarding transboundary river courses and wetlands.

46. The Treaty Enforcement Services using Earth Observation (TESEO) study of the European Space Agency seeks to develop remote sensing support for the implementation of four international environmental agreements (Ramsar, Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, and MARPOL 73/78), in particular to develop remote sensing tools for assessment and monitoring of wetlands, carbon emissions, desertification, and marine pollution.

Practical Steps for Applying the Vision for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance (Workshop 4)

47. National and international wetland inventories are crucial and should be used as an effective tool to identify new Ramsar Sites. As an example, BirdLife International presented its country-by-country analysis of Important Bird Areas in Europe that qualify as Internationally Important under Ramsar Criteria 2, 4, 5 or 6, revealing a potential of 2065 sites – of which 501 (24 per cent) have already been designated as Ramsar Sites.

48. Transborder projects are encouraged to increase management cooperation and facilitate the designation of new Ramsar Sites. The trilateral Waddensea (Denmark, Germany, Netherlands), Morava-Dyje floodplains (Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic), or the Prespa lakes (Albania, Greece, FYR of Macedonia) are encouraging examples – there are many more bilateral opportunities.

49. The overall objective is to create an ecological network of Ramsar Sites, protecting specific sites, migratory corridors, and natural habitats. This deserves equal priority with the good management of existing Ramsar Sites. Slovenia urged all Contracting Parties to consider designating subterranean and karst wetlands for the List of Wetlands of International Importance.

50. The involvement of local people, likely to be different within each new local context, is crucial at all levels of selecting, designating, and managing Ramsar Sites. Ramsar Sites need to be brought closer to local people, through proper signalisation and description in the field, with the assistance of the Ramsar Bureau.

51. Mountain wetlands fulfil crucial functions in the water cycle and are a haven for many endemic species. The development of more guidance on their designation as Ramsar Sites is needed.

Managing Wetlands for Sustainable Use (Workshop 5)

52. Wetland values need to be defined in order to set clear management objectives. Economic and policy incentives for unwise use need to be identified and eliminated. Management planning guidelines have to be set in the wider context of different policies affecting a given site. Spatially, management planning has to take into account wetland catchments and river basins.

53. Wetland assessment and monitoring is a basic requirement for efficient management planning. It is important to define the desired outcomes, taking into account the carrying capacity of a given site, and defining the verifiable indicators to measure success.

54. Active stakeholder participation, notably of rural populations using wetland resources directly, is crucial for the success of implementing management plans. Public acceptance of management objectives is essential. This may require time-consuming consultations and negotiations, especially if many different private land owners are concerned. The relevant economic sectors need to be included in the management planning process.

55. Quality aspects need to be incorporated in the definition of management objectives to obtain win-win situations. Biodiversity can become an important driver for sustainable wetland tourism, an aspect that should be incorporated into wetland management as a positive contribution. Quality guidelines for wetlands and people on aspects of management and sustainable tourism were recently elaborated through an EU Interreg project on European wetlands in spatial planning around the North Sea.

56. Peatland management and restoration need to receive increased attention. In Europe, peatlands are mostly affected by agriculture and forestry, only 15 per cent through direct peat extractions. STRP has prepared guidance for designation of peatlands (and other under-represented wetland types) as Wetlands of International Importance.

Cultural Aspects of Wetlands as a Tool for their Conservation and Sustainable Use (Workshop 6)

57. The rationale for considering cultural values of wetlands as a tool for their conservation, including draft guidelines how to go about it, were presented and discussed. Contracting Parties are encouraged to provide case studies and good examples for COP8. The need for definition and distinction among different cultural aspects that are important for wetland conservation was expressed. Bridges need to be built between those natural sciences associated with the Convention over the past thirty years and the, so far neglected, social sciences. The management of the cultural heritage in wetlands needs also to fully recognise the nature conservation objectives. National Ramsar Committees are well suited to bring cultural aspects into wetland management approaches.

58. The relationship between agriculture, water and wetlands was identified as a key issue, hopefully to be addressed through a specific Resolution at COP8, presented in draft form. Concrete proposals should be elaborated to reduce and mitigate adverse impacts of agricultural practices on wetlands. Closer coordination to achieve wise wetland use is needed between the nature conservation and agricultural sectors. To this end, the potential role of National Ramsar Committees was highlighted.

59. In October 2002, a workshop on the role of wetlands in the European Biosphere Reserves will take place in the Czech Republic, addressing how to solve problems between economic uses and the environmental quality of wetlands.

60. The need to actively engage local people and their traditions into wetland management was stressed by France. In the Russian Federation, the establishment of Ethnic Nature Parks is providing promising results.

Resolution on the
Regional Park Skocjan Caves – a World Heritage and Ramsar Site

On 14 October 2001, the Meeting participants visited the Ramsar and World Heritage Site Skocjanske Jame Regional Park under the guidance of the Park director Albin Debevec and his expert staff, exploring the impressive path of the Reka river above and under ground;

EXPRESSING THEIR APPRECIATION of the outstanding beauty of the karst features harboured in the Park, as well as of its rich biological diversity and cultural heritage;

NOTING WITH SATISFACTION that the Regional Park was declared in 1999 as a Wetland of International Importance according to the Ramsar guidelines for identifying and designating Karst and other subterranean hydrological systems (Resolution VII.13), and that it benefits, through the Regional Park, from a modern and efficient management structure;

WISHING the people of the Skocjan karst area and the Park authorities every success in the quest to promote the wider application of the guidelines on Wise Use of the Ramsar Convention;

CONVINCED by the explanations presented by Park staff and karst experts of the importance of the natural values of the contact zone between the limestone area and the adjacent Flysch in the area of Mejame.

The 4th European Regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention

SUGGESTS to the Slovenian Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning that it expand the area of the Regional Park Skocjanske Jame in order to include the Mejame limestone-Flysch contact area.


Acknowledgments

The particpants and the Ramsar Bureau express their sincere thanks to the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning of Slovenia for hosting and covering most of the costs of the 4th European Regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention, based on an invitation already presented in May 1999 during Ramsar COP7 by the Slovenian delegation. Particular gratitude was expressed to Dr Gordana Beltram and her colleagues of the Slovenian Environment Agency, as well as to Ms Marija Zupancic-Vicar and the Albatros Agency in Bled, for the preparation of the Meeting and its logistics, including travel of sponsored delegates.

Thanks to the financial support provided by the institutions listed below, it was possible to meet the costs not covered by the Slovenian Government and to sponsor the participation of many delegates from central and eastern European countries.

  • France: Ministère de l’Aménagement du territoire et de l’Environnement
  • Denmark: Danish Environmental Protection Agency
  • United Kingdom: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Switzerland: Direction du développement et de la coopération
  • Sweden: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • Hungary: Ministry for Environment
  • Netherlands: Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries
  • Austria: Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management
  • Belgium: Ministère de la Région wallonne
  • Norway: Directorate for Nature Management
  • Petrol - the Slovenian Oil Company d.d.
  • Telekom Slovenije

Thanks are expressed to (in alphabetical order) Christiane Barret (France), Gordana Beltram (Slovenia), Louise Lakos (Hungary), Bert Lenten (AEWA Agreement), Ilona Jepsen (Latvia), and Gerhard Sigmund (Austria) who chaired the plenary sessions; as well as to Frank Alberts (Netherlands), Adrian Olivier (European Archeological Council), Gunn Paulsen (Norway), Peter Skoberne (PEBLDS), Douglas Taylor (Wetlands International), and Marcus Yeo (UK) who chaired the workshops on the themes of the Technical Sessions of COP8.

As stated in the introduction, the present report is based on the notes of the session and workshop rapporteurs Jasmine Bachmann, András Böhm, Nick Davidson, Spyros Kouvelis, Torsten Larsson, Thymio Papayannis, Tobias Salathé, David Stroud, Carlos Villalba, and Libuse Vlasakova - thanks to them for their work.

Thanks are finally expressed to all participants who presented an oral presentation in the plenary and workshop sessions, to Per-Magnus Ahren, Frank Alberts, Mike Alexander, Jasmine Bachmann, Mladen Berginc, Delmar Blasco, Des Callaghan, Frédéric Chevallier, Josef Chytil, Jane Claricoates, Luis Costa, Nick Davidson, Bruno Dumeige, Scott Frazier, Jean Jalbert, Karén Jenderedjian, Jan Kadlecik, Spyros Kouvelis, Christophe Lefebvre, Matthew McCartney, Arno Mohl, Elizabeth Moore, Adrian Olivier, Thymio Papayannis, Gunn Paulsen, Bernard Picon, Dave Pritchard, Inga Racinska, José Rizo, Tobias Salathé, Nathalie Saur, Gianluca Silvestrini, Andrej Sovinc, Peter Skoberne, Saulius Svazas, Douglas Taylor, Ilya Trombitsky, Ivica Trumbic, Isabelle Vial, Carlos Villalba, María José Viñals, Philippe Weiler, Rachel Wiseman, Marcus Yeo, Marie-Claude Ximenes, and George Zalidis. For full details of their presentations cf. the Ramsar Bureau Web site, as specified in the introduction.

Side Events

The Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning invited NGOs and the private sector to show examples of Slovenian wetlands. Five exhibits displayed typical Slovenian wetlands seen and evaluated through the eyes of their authors in two hotel lobbies in Bled. An illustrated booklet with summaries in English and French of the exhibits was produced for the participants of the 4th European Regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention. Three of the presented areas are to be proposed for the Ramsar List: the Pivka valley lakes as part of the karst catchment of the Ljubljanica river, Ljubljana bog and the Slovenian wetlands of the transboundary Mura and Drava rivers.

A Poster Session and illustrated presentations of the MedWet Database and Inventory Tools took place on the evening of 16 October.

A workshop on the Ramsar Outreach Programme for national focal points for Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) under the Ramsar Outreach Programme and other interested participants took place on the evening of 17 October.

To help people become acquainted with the Convention on Wetlands, the Ramsar Bureau traveling exhibit was on show in the town centre of Ljubljana from 12 October to 4 November 2001, specially equipped for this occasion with Slovenian text.

Many participants profited from the opportunity to learn more about the mountain wetlands of Triglav National Park, thanks to a stunning slide presentation by National Park staff in the evening of 13 October, and during a guided excursion to some spectacular peat bogs, river gorges, water falls and Alpine lakes of Triglav National Park on 18 October 2001.

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