Guidelines for developing and implementing National Wetland Policies


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

(adopted by Ramsar Resolution VII.6)

Compiled by Clayton Rubec, with contributions by David Pritchard, Paul Mafabi, Nadra Nathai-Gyan, Bill Phillips, Maryse Mahy, Pauline Lynch-Stewart, Roberta Chew, Gilberto Cintron, Joseph Larson and Sundari Ramakrishna

 Table of Contents

I. Setting the Scene for Wetland Policy
II. Developing a National Wetland Policy
III. Organizing the Policy Document
IV. Implementing the Policy
V. References
Appendix 1: Priorities for Establishment of Wetland Policies
Appendix 2: Text of Recommendation 6.9 Framework for National Wetland Policy development and implementation
Appendix 3: Summary of National Wetland Policies and Action Plans/Strategies by Ramsar Contracting Party
Case Studies


1. National Wetland Policy is a key feature envisaged in the implementation of the wise use concept of the Ramsar Convention. However, defining, developing and implementing national policies that promote wetland conservation and management remains an elusive goal for many Contracting Parties of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971). To assist these interests, the authors have responded to Recommendation 6.9 adopted by the 6th Conference of the Contracting Parties in March 1996, in Brisbane, Australia. This Recommendation called for cooperation by Contracting Parties, the Ramsar Bureau and other contributors to prepare a “framework report” on national wetland policies.

2. The following Guidelines for the Development and Implementation of National Wetland Policies has been prepared by a team of contributors with governmental or non-governmental work experience and expertise in wetland policy development. The team includes writers from Ramsar administrative authorities in Australia, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and the United States of America. Several non-government agency contributors also were involved: BirdLife International, the University of Massachusetts, and Wetlands International.

3. The main contributors include Clayton Rubec (acting as the project coordinator and lead author), Nadra Nathai-Gyan, Paul Mafabi, David Pritchard and Bill Phillips. Roberta Chew, Gilberto Cintron and Joseph Larson contributed case studies based on experience in the United States as did Sundari Ramakrishna based on the National Wetland Policy initiative of Malaysia. Maryse Mahy of the Ramsar Bureau provided information on many of the national policy documents, particularly in Europe. Pauline Lynch-Stewart of Canada provided helpful suggestions and initial text in several sections. Delmar Blasco, the Secretary General of the Convention, Michael Smart, Ken Cox of the North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada), and Lyle Glowka of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Environmental Law Centre and others have also provided helpful suggestions to improve the text.

4. The authors recognize that some of the language and terms used in this document draws mainly on the governmental system of the British Commonwealth, the national experience of several of the authors. It is hoped readers experienced with other systems of government can “read between the lines” and substitute the needed terms and words as appropriate.

5. It must be stressed that this document is not a model for writing a National Wetland Policy. Rather, it is a collection of the authors’ observations based on first hand experience. The authors first established an outline for the document based upon experience they felt could be most useful. Several drafts were then prepared during 1998 that were provided for review by the participants to the Pan-American, Pan-African, Oceania, and Pan-Asian regional meetings of the Contracting Parties to the Convention. These meetings acted as preparatory sessions for the 7th Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention in San José, Costa Rica in May 1999, where these guidelines were adopted after having been discussed and amended during Technical Session II during the Conference.

6. These Guidelines may prove most useful to countries making or considering a commitment to new formulations of national policy or strategies on wetlands. Sections treat in sequence the suggested steps and issues which may arise. This includes defining the purpose of such an initiative, organizing a suitable process, deciding how to present the content of the policy document, and developing strategies for implementation and monitoring. Any of these topics however may also be of interest in countries with well established approaches to these matters. Some of the topics examined here may not yet be part of such approaches or, through this synthesis of international experience, may shed extra light on how these particular efforts look in the wider context.

7. As indicated in paragraph 3, the text is complemented by seven case studies including: The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in a National Wetland Conservation Strategy by Joseph Larson of the University of Massachusetts in the United States of America; Defining Stakeholders in a National Wetland Policy by Nadra Nathai-Gyan of Trinidad and Tobago; Consultations for Wetland Policy Development by Clayton Rubec of Canada; Wetland Policies Within a Federal State by Bill Phillips of Australia; Review of Sectoral Policies and Legislation Related to Wetlands by Paul Mafabi of Uganda; Compliance Strategies by Roberta Chew and Gilberto Cintron of the United States of America; and Malaysia Wetland Policy: the Development and Coordination Process by Sundari Ramakrishna of Wetlands International Asia-Pacific in Malaysia.

8. It is hoped that these Guidelines will provide a reference against which all Ramsar Contracting Parties will feel encouraged to review their nation’s policies and strategies at the national level, so that the benefits and experience sharing inherent to the Ramsar Convention can be maximized.


§1.1 Introduction

9. Wetlands have been identified as one of the key life support systems on this planet in concert with agricultural lands and forests. This has been a key theme in the evolving global support and political commitment for sustainable development and environmental conservation as articulated in the Ramsar Convention’s Strategic Plan 1997-2002, the World Conservation Strategy, Caring for the Earth, the report of the Brundtland Commission, and Agenda 21. The role of wetlands has emerged as a key element in the delivery of inland freshwater and coastal ecosystem conservation through the Convention on Biological Diversity. The importance of our wetlands goes beyond their status as the habitat of many endangered plant and animal species. They are a vital element of national and global ecosystems and economies.

10. The seriousness of the continuing loss of wetlands demands a new approach to wetland management. A major portion of the wetland area in settled areas has been converted from its natural state to support alternative land uses including agriculture, urbanization, industry, and recreational pursuits. Wetlands have also been degraded by land use practices that have resulted in vegetation destruction, nutrient and toxin loading, sedimentation, turbidity, and altered flow regimes. Dredging, intensive aquaculture, logging and acid rain have also affected the natural balance of wetlands.

11. The disruption of wetland functions has a high cost — economically, socially and ecologically. The disturbance of their natural balance can destroy critical gene pools required for medical and agricultural purposes, it can affect their ability to naturally improve water quality and it can ruin their use for educational and recreational purposes. The disruption of valuable wetlands must cease, the diversity of remaining wetlands must be retained, and where possible rehabilitation, restoration and re-creation of wetlands must be attempted. The obstacles and possible solutions to this issue of quantitative and qualitative loss of wetlands are outlined below.

12. It is thus critical that the importance of wetlands and their conservation be demonstrated to be essential to the well being of the citizens of a nation. Wetland conservation is vital to achieving the objectives of biodiversity conservation described in international treaties and their related international obligations. Wetlands play a significant role in delivery of these objectives as can be exemplified in the case of the elements of the World Conservation Strategy:

Maintenance of essential ecological processes and life-support systems: Wetlands perform these functions in various ways; some maintain and improve water quality, some regulate flows to reduce flooding and may augment late summer stream flows, and some recharge groundwater supply. Wetlands are important as production and staging areas for migratory birds, as spawning and nursery grounds for fish, and as habitat for a great many invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and plants.

Preservation of genetic diversity: Wetlands play an essential role in maintaining wildlife populations, providing key habitat for a diverse fauna and flora. Wetlands are home to about one third of the wildlife species that have been identified as endangered, threatened or rare.

Sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems: Many local and provincial (state)/territorial economies rely directly on wetland resources such as fish and wildlife, plant products and wood. Renewable resources associated with wetlands are central to the traditional subsistence lifestyle of a nation’s aboriginal and indigenous peoples. Wetlands also support substantial tourism and recreational opportunities, such as hunting, fishing, bird watching and nature photography.

13. Meeting the challenge of conserving wetlands of international and national significance requires comprehensive national policies so as to provide a basis for domestic action and a framework for international and national cooperation. Such policy for wetlands can be valuable as countries seek to address the management and habitat requirements for wildlife and other biological resources as well as for human needs for the current and future generations.

14. Within the text of the Ramsar Convention adopted in 1971, Article 3.1 establishes that “the Contracting Parties shall formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List [of Wetlands of International Importance] and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in their territory.”

15. One of the recommended actions that Contracting Parties consider in acceding to the Convention on Wetlands is the formulation of national policies that promote wetland conservation. In a number of national examples completed to date, this has been observed to sometimes involve a lengthy and complex process. Political, interjurisdictional, institutional, legal and financial constraints affect the formulation of such policies, in addition to social and economic factors that continue to contribute to wetland loss while the policy process is underway.

16. It is important to recognize that the process of establishing and implementing wetland policy at a national level may take time and needs adequate consultation to overcome barriers such as scarce financial resources or institutional reluctance to change ways of doing business in government agencies and elsewhere. To be broadly effective, a National Wetland Policy must be wide in scope and not just be, or be perceived to be, only a wildlife protection policy. A strict focus on wildlife aspects for a National Wetland Policy may only marginalize its value to society and the nation. Development of such a Policy is in fact a “golden opportunity” to promote cooperation and action at many levels. The Policy can be developed in the face of uncertainty; comprehensive inventory and scientific information are not required before action can occur.

§1.2 Opportunities for Wetland Conservation

17. A number of opportunities for resolving issues and achieving wetland conservation are identified below.

Establishing Wetland Conservation Objectives in Government Policies

18. Federal, provincial, state, territorial and municipal governments have rarely recognized the values of wetland conservation in their policies and programmes. The lack of government direction results in:

• a continuing and cumulative wetland loss because decisions to convert individual wetlands to other land uses are neither subject to, nor related to, overall conservation policies;

• a lack of full accountability by those national and sub-national agencies charged with the stewardship of natural resources such as wetlands;

• a lack of profile for wetland issues, which results in inadequate attention being paid to wetland values when land use decisions are made or are subject to review;

• a lack of guidance to decision-makers (federal, provincial, state, territorial and municipal agencies, landowners) who must balance the advantages and disadvantages of land use decisions; and

• the failure to enforce existing legislation and policies where they are in place.

19. A National Wetland Policy can assist these government agencies in establishing accountability for their actions and modifying their sectoral policies to the benefit of wetland ecosystems.

Enhancing Coordination and Communication Among Government Agencies

20. Jurisdiction over wetlands in most nations is spread among federal, provincial (state), territorial and municipal governments, and among different government departments and agencies. None of this myriad of departments and agencies at any level is likely to be responsible for all aspects of wetland management, conservation and sustainable use. Although limited efforts have been made, coordination and communication within and among governments remains inadequate. The need is not for one agency to look after wetlands, the need is to stress better communications and consistent, enforced policy that is followed by all government agencies. A National Wetland Policy can be the mechanism to enhance and promote effective coordination and communication among such agencies.

21. In many nations, government agencies with the opportunity to provide leadership to wetland conservation programmes are often poorly supported with few resources in terms of staffing and funding. Their political position in the government hierarchy may also be of a lower rank with less influence, reporting through one or more senior ministries. The linkages needed to be effective, such as coordinating programme opportunities that are good for wetlands to national water, agricultural and development priorities, are often difficult for the government to consider.

Creating More Incentives to Conserve Wetlands

22. Incentives programmes (government and others) often conflict with wetland conservation efforts. In some nations, income and property tax incentives, drainage and diking subsidies, and agricultural production quotas are often strong financial inducements to a farmer to convert wetlands to cultivated land. Without the inducement, economic factors would usually discourage conversion. Conversely, there are few incentives for landowners to maintain wetlands in a natural state. Since the public generally benefits from wetlands, conservation efforts can be justifiably supported by government-funded or sponsored incentives. The National Wetland Policy can be a tool to foster implementation of new and better economic and sectoral incentives and to retire factors and disincentives that lead to wetland decline.

Fostering Better Wetland Management after Acquisition or Retention

23. Non-governmental organizations, local communities, private landowners, and government agencies often have difficulty managing wetlands they have acquired or retained for conservation purposes. Property taxes and personnel costs are often high, and managers are not familiar with methods to raise revenue from the use of wetlands in an ecologically sensitive manner. Long-term management, which can be aided by revenue generation, is a growing concern of all wetland conservation agencies. The National Wetland Policy is an opportunity to address these factors and find solutions.

Better Knowledge and Its Application

24. There is limited information about the status, ecological functioning, and values (such as hydrologic or economic value) of wetlands. Progress has been made in many nations in classifying and developing inventories of wetlands but, globally, the task is far from complete. Greater effort has to be made to set goals for numbers and kinds of wetlands needed. The National Wetland Policy can assist in setting information priorities and a strategy to acquire and utilize better information needed for wetland management.

25. Wetlands conversion rates and the economic value of wetlands have not been adequately quantified. The economic, social and ecological costs and benefits of wetland conversion are as yet poorly understood, but the evidence is mounting that wetlands are economically, as well as ecologically and socially, important. Existing knowledge about wetlands is not well distributed and is not effectively used in influencing land use decisions. While gaps in knowledge about wetlands remain an important obstacle, conservation actions must proceed without waiting for ongoing results from research activities.

26. In many nations where economic development remains difficult, or in nations where economies are now in transition, existing social and political obstacles to environmental programmes are substantial. Wetland conservation will continue to be a low priority as the links to economic well-being and sustainable water and natural resource uses remain unclear. In countries torn by natural disasters and civil or international border conflicts, the environmental needs of these nations have understandably remained of low priority for government action.

Education Directed to the General Public, Decision Makers, Landowners and the Private Sector

27. Education programmes about wetlands are not strongly supported, inconsistent and have not stressed the importance of stewardship and wise use of natural resources. In many examples at a national or sub-national level, it has been demonstrated that the public is more supportive of conservation programmes if they are better informed about wetlands. This evolves through public awareness initiatives that develop a better understanding of the values, functions and benefits of wetlands and the consequences of continuing wetland loss.

28. Landowners need to know how to improve management of their renewable natural resources to produce sustainable economic benefits. Decision makers need to learn the importance of wetland issues, the close relationship between conservation and sustainable economic development, and how to apply ecological understanding to resource planning and management. Education is an interactive process: political leaders, government officials, scientists, landowners, and wetland users can all learn much from each other about wetlands and their conservation. Equally, construction and tourism development activities, for example, while potentially adding to the pressures facing wetlands, may also offer opportunities to engage important stakeholders in approaches which promote sustainable management.

29. A National Wetland Policy is a significant opportunity to jointly establish the priorities and mechanisms to enhance awareness of wetland resources in a nation.

Promoting Involvement of Non-Governmental Organizations and Local Communities

30. Governments have not fully recognized the fund raising and conservation skills and efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local communities, nor the potential of these groups to assist in wetland conservation and policy development. These organizations and local communities are often well placed to raise funds from interested members of the public and provide in-kind contributions to defray costs associated with wetland conservation. They can become effective partners with government in delivering wetland conservation projects, particularly for monitoring and wardening, both locally and nationally. The administrative overheads inherent in these organizations and local communities tend to be lower than those of governments. Credible NGOs and community-based groups are frequently able to galvanize the public support needed to overcome political and bureaucratic “roadblocks”. [Case Study 1]

§1.3 The Convention’s Historical Context for Wise Use and Wetland Policy

31. The Wise Use Concept has become a hallmark of the Convention on Wetlands. Wise use was envisaged in Article 3.1 of the Convention by which Contracting Parties are expected to “formulate and implement their planning so as to promote . . . . as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory”. Wise use is a one of the most challenging components of the Convention’s concepts to implement. As a result, the Convention has formulated Guidelines and additional guidance toassist the Contracting Parties in the implementation of the concept.

32. “Wise use” applies not only to Ramsar listed sites, but to all wetlands in the territory of the Contracting Party. The Guidelines on the Wise Use of Wetlands were adopted at the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP3) in Canada in 1987. Recommendation 3.3 calls on the Contracting Parties to use the included definition of wise use and the Guidelines included in the Annex to that recommendation.

33. The Guidelines produced by the Convention have assisted several Contracting Parties in developing national wetland policies. These Guidelines outline the need to improve institutional and organizational arrangements, address legislative and policy needs, increase knowledge and awareness of wetland values, inventory and monitor the status of wetlands, identify programme priorities and develop action plans for specific sites as components of a National Wetland Policy.

34. At the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP4) held in Switzerland in 1990, the Parties adopted the Guidelines for the Implementation of the Wise Use Concept as Recommendation 4.10 (which superseded Recommendation 3.3), reconfirming that the Wise Use Concept extends to all aspects of wetland conservation. The Recommendation indicated that national wetland policies should, as far as possible, address a wide range of problems and activities related to wetlands within a national context. Five categories for national-level action (listed in detail in Appendix 1) were proposed:

(a) improvement of institutional and government organizational arrangements;

(b) review of existing and future legislation and other national policies affecting wetlands;

(c) development of awareness and knowledge of wetland functions and values;

(d) inventory and economic valuation of wetlands for setting site management priorities; and

(e) establishment of actions on a site-specific basis such as legal protection mechanisms and habitat restoration.

35. Whether or not National Wetland Policies were being prepared, the Guidelines called for several actions that should receive immediate attention at the national level. These would facilitate the preparation of national wetland policies, and avoid delay in practical implementation of wetland conservation and wise use. As expected, Contracting Parties are selecting actions according to their own national priorities. Some are implementing institutional, legislative or educational measures and at the same time initiating inventories or scientific work. Equally, Contracting Parties wishing to promote wise use of wetlands without waiting until national wetland policies have been developed have been urged to:

(i) identify the issues which require the most urgent attention;

(ii) take action on one or more of these issues;

(iii) identify the wetland sites which require the most urgent action; and

(iv) take action at one or more of these wetlands, along the lines set out under “priority actions at particular wetland sites”.

36. Thus the Convention has promoted the wise use of wetland resources since its inception in 1971 and especially over the last 12 years, contributing to each nation’s sustainable development objectives. The concept of wise use seeks both the formulation and implementation of general wetland policies, and wise use of specific wetlands. These activities are integral parts of sustainable development.

37. However, as recognised by the Report of the Workshop on Wise Use presented at COP3, elaboration of national wetland policies can be a long-term process. Noting that political and national constraints are important factors that hinder the formulation of such policies, COP4 recommended that all Contracting Parties work towards formulation of comprehensive National Wetland Policies in the long term, and that such policies be formulated in whatever manner is appropriate to their national institutions and situations.

38. In 1993, the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP5) in Kushiro, Japan asked why member states had not adopted national wetland policies, and how wetland policies could be integrated with National Environment Policies or National Conservation Strategies. Furthermore, COP5 noted that social and economic factors were the main reasons for wetland loss, and required consideration during the process of preparing National Wetland Policies.

39. At the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP6) in Brisbane, Australia in 1996, the Convention adopted the Strategic Plan 1997-2002. In line with other past decisions of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Operational Objective 2.1 of the Strategic Plan urges member states to carry out a review, and amend national or supra-national legislation, institutions and practices, to ensure that the Wise Use Guidelines are applied. It urges that each Contracting Party implement this objective by reviewing legislation and practices in their territory and by indicating in the National Reports to the next Conference of the Contracting Parties how the Guidelines are being applied.

40. Furthermore, each Contracting Party in 1996 was asked to promote much greater efforts to develop national wetland policies, either separately or as a clearly identifiable component of other national conservation planning initiatives such as National Environmental Action Plans, National Biodiversity Strategies, or National Conservation Strategies. Recommendation 6.9 of COP6 (see Appendix 2) spells out the need for a framework for the development and implementation of National Wetland Policies for use by these Contracting Parties which as yet have no policy of this kind. It also calls for examples and illustrations drawing upon such policies. The same recommendation directs the Ramsar Bureau to coordinate specific tasks in the production of guidelines for the development and implementation of National Wetland Policies.

§1.4 Why are Wetland Policies Needed?

41. Wetlands are seldom explicitly covered at a national level in other existing natural resource management policies such as for water, forest, land, agriculture or other sectors. Development of a unique or “stand alone” wetland policy statement and/or strategy can be an important step in recognition of wetland problems and targeted action to deal with them. A unique wetland policy provides a clear opportunity to recognize wetlands as ecosystems requiring different approaches to their management and conservation, and not being masked under other sectoral management objectives.

42. In many cases, wetland policies or strategies are components of national sustainable development, water or other sectoral environmental policies. The wetland messages can thus become diffused and overpowered by these broader objectives of the Government. In many countries, where staff in management agencies are few and face many demands and new challenges and expectations daily, dedicated staff time for implementation of wetland commitments or objectives may be overridden by the pressure to deal with the broader issues. This works to the disadvantage of any wetland conservation objective.

43. A stand-alone, unique wetland policy draws considerable attention to wetland issues particularly by legislators and the public. Articulation of clear goals and objectives for these ecosystems identifies clear responsibilities of the Government and an expectation that the Government will actually deliver on these commitments.

§1.5 What is a Wetland Policy?

44. It is important to be clear on what “policy” is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not. Policy has been defined as “a collection of principles which indicate intended and acceptable activity or direction for an organization or government.” It has also been noted that policy “is like an elephant, you recognize it when you see it, but cannot easily define it”. Certainly, any policy must be viewed as a statement of the considerations which will guide both rational decisions and actions. It is within this definition of policy that the following guidelines for developing and implementing National Wetland Policies under the Convention on Wetlands are proposed.

45. The term “National Wetland Policy” has been used elsewhere in the same sense as “National Wetland Plan” or “National Wetland Strategy”. It is impossible to clearly separate all such terms and to ensure standard English, French, Spanish or other language uses of these terms. However, the authors of this document hope to convey a common concept regarding the idea of “policy”. In this document “policy” generally refers to a clearly published statement by a national or sub-national government, often with measurable goals, timelines and commitments plus budgets for action. In some cases, a “plan” or “strategy” falls short of this benchmark, articulating a vision of where the government wishes to go with a listing of potential activities and partnerships that may require further definition of the specific timelines, budgets and measurable commitments. All National Wetland Policies, Plans and Strategies are recognized as vitally important; there is no attempt here to diminish the effort to achieve them in practice and no attempt is made to signify which terms or particular definitions are the most appropriate.

46. The authors recognize that there remains a lack of precise use and standard definition of the terms wetland “policy”, “plan” and “strategy”. In attempting to survey the global picture regarding National Wetland Policies, the authors indeed have noted that many agencies and governments have used these words interchangeably.

47. A policy is perhaps most commonly thought of as a document, and it is certainly convenient to package it in a usable form like this. It may also be helpful to think of policy making as a process, involving consensus-building, encapsulation of ideas and commitments, implementation, accountability and review. Policy might be seen as the highest level in a hierarchy. It is a mechanism for an administration to capture the public will or mandate on an issue, and refine it with its own vision. How a national legislature or government then deals with this may go beyond policy by means of legislation. An implementing agency may also deal with a Policy by means of strategies and programmes of action.

48. Policies derive their effectiveness and legitimacy from many sources. Some policies are approved by either a Government as a whole or by an individual Minister. One must bear in mind that political approval of a policy does not guarantee its “on the ground” success. In many cases, the process used to develop the Policy is its greatest source of strength, particularly when dealing with broad issues and multiple stakeholder interests.

49. The Policy will reflect attitudes, express desired principles, state intentions (e.g. often phrased in the form of goals/ objectives/aims), show what choices have been made about strategic directions, make commitments, provide a focus for consensus, express concerns and provide advice, and make roles and responsibilities clear.

50. A National Wetland Policy is understood to be nationwide in scope but it may be developed simultaneously or in sequence at several levels of government. In Australia and Canada for example, both the federal government and component state (or provincial) governments have developed wetland conservation policies. This reflects the federal nature of these two nations, wherein constitutional authority for natural resources management (including wetland management) is divided between the levels of government.

51. In some nations, policy can be formally adopted by an appropriate process by the national government at a level (e.g. Cabinet) which can commit all relevant arms of government to its implementation. In federal states with shared constitutional jurisdictions, this may not be the case. A federal government may express its commitments to wetland conservation through a federal policy. Such a policy would, however, only apply to federal authorities and areas of federal control. The extent to which it was applied, as opposed to setting a good example or non-binding guidance for sub-national jurisdictions (e.g. provincial, state, township governments), would depend on the circumstances of each nation.

52. A National Wetland Policy will function as a framework that enables clear conclusions to be drawn about what actions are required (but does not in itself set out detailed prescriptions for actions) and what end result is expected. It must be clear how things would be different if the policy did not exist – and thus demonstrate its own net added value. If purporting to be the definitive expression of national policy about wetlands, then it can be short and just a “framework” in nature. Depth is not critical but it must be complete in its coverage of key policy issues which affect wetlands (so breadth is critical), even if the jurisdiction for some of these lies outside the originating agency. These include jurisdictional authority for natural resources management such as water resources, development planning, pollution control, education and foreign relations.

§1.6 Review of the Status of Wetland Policies by Ramsar Region

53. A paper on the status of wetland policies in Ramsar Contracting Parties was presented at COP6 (Rubec 1996). The paper was organized by the seven Ramsar Regions that existed at that time, incorporating 92 nations. The Convention now (April 1999) has 114 Contracting Parties.

54. Rubec’s paper separated reporting on development of stand alone “wetland policies” from “wetland strategies and plans” based on the terminology used in national reports by the Contracting Parties. Rubec (1996) felt this was an important distinction based on his national experience that a separate “policy” is more often an expression of government commitment with clearly defined goals, time table, budgets and structure to proceed with implementation. On the other hand, the author felt that “plans and strategies” refers more frequently to a longer term process without immediate commitment to proceed and a less defined set of goals.

55. It is recognized that in many cases there can be considerable overlap in how these terms are used by different organizations and national governments. Hence, the analysis presented here (see Table 1) must be tempered with the knowledge that the decision as to what national wetland initiatives are listed as “policy” versus “strategy/plan” is as imprecise as the sources of information used to gather the numbers. The authors wish in no way to suggest that any such national initiative is better or less developed or appropriate than other examples.

56. Rubec’s paper was based upon the information derived from Regional Reports prepared for the 1995 Meeting of the Ramsar Convention Standing Committee and the National Reports prepared for COP6 in Australia in March 1996. It has been updated with information in the National Reports submitted for COP7 of the Convention in Costa Rica in May 1999 and posted on the Ramsar Bureau Web Site (Ramsar Bureau 1998c).

57. As of April 1999, a total of 44 of the 114 Ramsar Contracting Parties indicated they were engaged in development or implementation of a National Wetland Policy. The majority (39) of these nations also reported they were developing a parallel National Wetland Action Plan or Strategy through other mechanisms or as a stand alone document in addition to the National Wetland Policy. These initiatives were distributed across the seven Ramsar Regions. Only 12 Ramsar Contracting Parties reported that such a Policy had been adopted by the Government. An additional six Contracting Parties indicated that a National Wetland Policy was in draft form, and 26 reported that development of such a Policy was under consideration or proposed. Several nations, such as Cambodia, that were not yet Ramsar Contracting Parties, were also developing National Wetland Programmes. Some 70 Ramsar Contracting Parties had not yet indicated that a National Wetland Policy was being planned in any fashion.

58. A number of nations, particularly those with a commonwealth or federal structure such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Pakistan and the United States of America, reported wetland policy and strategies development, or consideration, at the sub-national level also. This reflects shared constitutional authority for wetland conservation at both the national and sub-national (e.g. state or provincial) levels in these nations. In some cases, no national wetland initiative would be expected as wetlands are under the authority of sub-national jurisdictions. Some of these sub-national policies or strategies are listed in Appendix 4.

59. In the COP7 review, National Wetland Strategies and Action Plans were considered separately from National Wetland Policies. As of May 1999, some 50 Contracting Parties reported they had National Wetland Strategies or Action Plans adopted, 12 were in draft form, and 39 Contracting Parties had such an initiative under consideration or proposed. These were distributed among all seven Ramsar Regions. Only 13 Contracting Parties have not reported any steps towards developing such a national strategy or action plan. Thus, the majority of Ramsar Contracting Parties were putting into effect National Wetland Conservation Programmes separately from, or in addition to, National Wetland Policies.

60. The COP6 analysis (Rubec 1996) was the first attempt to compile wetland policy information under the Convention. A review of the Proceedings of COP3 through to COP6 and the National Reports for COP7 indicates that, by 1999, significant progress is now evident on a global scale since the Ramsar Convention was initiated in 1971. This trend is expected to continue beyond COP7.

61. Table 1 summarizes the status of the development and adoption of National Wetland Policies, National Wetland Strategies and Action Plans from 1987 through April 1999. This table was developed by reviewing the conference papers that summarized national wetland policies and strategies as reported by each country for all aspects of the implementation of the Convention (Ramsar Bureau 1987, 1990, 1993, 1998a, 1998c; Smart 1993; Rubec 1996).

62. Over this period, the number of nations with a National Wetland Policy officially adopted grew from zero to 12, with an additional 23 nations having initiated or currently considering such a Policy. Over this same period, the number of nations that indicated they have finalized a National Wetland Strategy or Action Plan has grown from four to 50.

63. In 1987, only five Contracting Parties indicated they were involved in any sort of National Wetland Policy, Strategy or Action Plan; by 1999 this has grown to at least 101. Many of these same nations are included in the 44 nations reporting progress by April 1999 in developing or adopting a separate National Wetland Policy. It is expected that the number of Contracting Parties so engaged will continue to grow after COP7.

Table 1: Status of National Wetland Policies (NWPs) and National Wetland Strategies (NWSs) or Action Plans (NWAPs)

Status of NWP and NWS/ NWAP

1987 Regina COP3

1990 Montreux COP4

1993 Kushiro COP5

1996 Brisbane COP6

1999 San José COP7

National Wetland Policies
(a) Adopted






(b) In Draft Form






(c) Development Under Consideration or Proposed






(d) No Action Yet Reported






National Wetland Strategies/ National Wetland Action Plans
(a) Adopted






(b) In Draft Form






(c) Development Under Consideration or Proposed






(d) No Action Yet Reported






Number of National Reports Tabled

17 of 35

45 of 60

51 of 76

92 of 92

107 of 114

Sources: Ramsar Bureau (1987, 1990, 1993, 1998a, 1998c); Rubec (1996); Smart (1993).  n.d = no data.

§1.7 Relationship Between Policy and Wise Use

64. Wise use of wetlands is a concept that can operate at all levels. Hence, it is a guiding principle which helps to shape choices about specific actions on the ground as well as choices of strategic direction at the level of policy. Wise use may help to test each main plank of a National Wetland Policy against the adopted wise use definition established by the Convention on Wetlands, to ensure that they are true to this key aspect of the Convention.

65. In principle, a nation acceding to the Convention accepts the obligation to promote, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in its territory (Article 3.1 of the Convention text). This is therefore automatically its minimum policy on the subject. A National Wetland Policy could further refine a particular country’s view of its own way forward with this goal, reflecting its own circumstances. It could of course present a more exacting standard to aim for than the common one adopted under the Convention on Wetlands (but not less exacting).

66. Thus a National Wetland Policy is one tool in the spectrum of actions proposed in the Guidelinesfor the Implementation of the Wise Use Concept and the Additional Guidance for the Implementation of the Wise Use Concept of the Convention. No one should expect that a National Wetland Policy is the overriding or, indeed the only, action needed in a wise use programme for wetland conservation.

§1.8 Level of Approval/Adoption of the National Wetland Policy

67. Many factors will govern what constitutes the most effective or most desirable level at which a National Wetland Policy (or sub-national initiative) is adopted or approved. Ideally, the Policy would be adopted by the national Cabinet. In some cases, this means having it adopted under national law or through constitutional amendment. Such action may not always be appropriate in some nations where continuity of government policies from one government regime to the next is standard procedure. In countries such as the United Kingdom or the United States, in fact, an array of supporting legislative and policy tools are used together. No one specific national wetland law covering all jurisdictions is workable. In smaller nations with less complex jurisdictional situations, one national wetland law may, however, be a very appropriate tool. Thus, ensuring flexibility as to where and when legislative tools are considered is important.

68. In some nations, things that are not enshrined in law are sometimes overlooked or ignored by subsequent governments. Adoption of the Policy by Cabinet or a Government Decree could thus be seen as a minimum level of recognition and endorsement by the Government.


69. The following parts of Section II and all of Section IV of these guidelines explore considerations and steps that might be used in developing and ultimately implementing a National Wetland Policy. Figure 1 provides a very general flow chart of some of the steps through two phases leading to adoption and implementation of a National Wetland Policy: Phase 1 — Policy Development; and Phase 2 — Policy Adoption and Implementation.

§2.1 Establishing a Lead Agency

70. An agency has to lead the development and implementation of a National Wetland Policy. Initially, development of an issues statement, planning of meetings and workshops and then in due course, actual writing of a policy or strategy, requires coordination and resource support (e.g. staff time, office support, travel costs).

71. A national government agency should coordinate and facilitate the development phase in cooperation with appropriate regional or local authorities. In many cases it is quite appropriate to immediately consider involving the non-government and private sector in the planning phases. In some cases, a national or international non-governmental organization has been contracted by the Government to facilitate this process.

72. The agency that leads the development phase, however, may not be the one that leads the implementation phase. What and who leads that phase will be governed, to a major degree, by the results of national consultations and the government’s wishes.

§2.2 Considerations for a National Wetland Committee

73. Through its various meetings, the Convention on Wetlands has given guidance to the establishment of a National Wetland Committee that may or may not serve direct roles in national-level implementation of the Convention’s objectives. In some nations, creation of such a Committee has been shown to be an effective tool to assist the Government in developing a National Wetland Policy.

74. One example of this is Trinidad and Tobago where a National Wetland Committee greatly facilitated national discussion of their proposed National Wetland Policy over several years. Representatives from several sectors (government, academia, non-governmental organizations, industry) were invited by the Government to act as an advisory body in the planning of written material and consultations on a national policy. Having a cross-section of appropriate disciplines and expertise resident in the carefully selected members of this Committee has been observed to be helpful in the policy development process (Pritchard 1997).

75. The Committee could consist of representatives from all the various jurisdictions (e.g. regional, provincial, states or township government, etc.) and the federal government who are responsible for land-use and land-use policy in their jurisdictions. Strategic inclusion of one or more senior government representatives may be effective in moving the Policy forward within the government system.

Figure 1: Flow Chart of the Major Steps in the Development and Implementation of a National Wetland Policy

Phase 1: Policy DevelopmentPhase 2: Policy Adoption & Implementation
Preparatory Initiatives

Establishment of a Writing Team

Creation of National Wetland Advisory Committee

Preparation of Background Paper(s) and National Issues Statement

Circulation of Papers and Issues Statement

Legislative Review

Interministerial Consultations

Draft Policy Development

Targeted Consultations and National and Local Workshop(s)

Intergovernmental Consultations

Revised Policy Drafts

Additional Interagency Consultations

Formulation of Final Draft of Policy

Interdepartmental Review

Preparation of Implementation Plan and Budget

Preparation of Cabinet Document

Central Agency/Treasury Board Submission

Cabinet/Government Approval

Public Announcement

Work Plan Implementation

Creation of National Implementation/Lead Agency

Establishment of Ongoing Roles of National Wetland Committee

Development of Implementation Guidelines

Harmonization with Other Policies

Development of Training Programme for Affected Agencies

Legislative Implementation or Revision

76. The National Wetland Committee might also involve representatives of non-governmental organizations and other interests, such as industry, deemed to be important to the success of the process by the national government. A range of expertise and disciplines can be effective in this Committee and it could serve in a support capacity to a Policy Writing Team. This Committee, in becoming more active in information exchange, programme, policy and research coordination and cooperation, would deal more directly with national wetland issues. The results of a national consultation workshop (see Section 2.7) can guide the National Wetland Committee in its consideration of a possible wetland policy framework.

77. A National Wetland Committee has been created in some cases as a result of adoption of a National Wetland Policy or implementation of comprehensive national wetland programmes. These Committees, in an advisory role, can assist the Government(s) managing the nation’s wetland resources in designing and implementing wetland management, policy and science initiatives.

78. In either case, before or after adoption of the Policy, creation of a National Wetland Committee is an astute action by the Government to encourage and establish support from many sectors and stakeholders. The Committee can greatly assist in avoiding and resolving conflicts in wetland conservation.

§2.3 National Issues Statement and Background Paper

79. In developing national consensus on the need for wetland policy or strategies, it has been found valuable to prepare a short national “issues statement” or “vision statement” as the basis for introducing a national consultation on a proposed policy. An example of a national wetland vision statement, based upon one developed in Canada (North American Wetlands Conservation Council Canada 1998), is presented in Figure 2. Such a statement would express the Government’s concerns and the national interest with regard to wetland conservation. The statement can be used as a preliminary “think piece” to generate discussion in consultation meetings or a national workshop.

80. A detailed background paper on the scope and status of the nation’s wetlands is a valuable tool to assist in national discussions towards a wetland policy or strategy. Such a paper could include:

(a) the functions and values of wetlands in the nation;

(b) the types of wetlands and resources present in the nation’s existing wetlands;

(c) an historical review of the uses and impacts of development on wetlands;

(d) a review of existing statistics on inventory and wetland loss;

(e) an examination of the relationships of wetlands to other sectoral resource management issues;

(f) a summary of existing legislative and government responsibilities for wetlands;

(g) an examination of opportunities for programme development, partnerships and support; and

(h) the value of wetlands to the environment and people, with quantified economic values.

81. The background paper can include a preliminary definition of potential goals, objectives, principles and strategic directions for a National Wetland Policy. The background paper could be designed for public release and used widely as a communication and education tool. Extensive use of graphic and photographic illustrations would be useful. It could be developed with the cooperation of educators and environmental organizations across the nation.

Figure 2: Example o

f a National Wetland Conservation Vision Statement

Vision: The government, non-government and private sectors, jointly and cooperatively, will work towards the long-term securement of wetland ecosystems for the sustainable use by the nation’s wildlife and its people. To achieve this vision, six objectives are established.

Objective 1. Implement Comprehensive Wetland Conservation Policies

• Develop and implement wetland conservation and management policies and strategies in all jurisdictions in the nation.

• Develop and implement wetland management policies in resource-based industries.

• Include wetland conservation goals in governmental land and water use policies.

• Convene a national wetland conference to evaluate and review national wetland conservation objectives.

Objective 2. Improve Cooperation with National and International Jurisdictions

• Establish a National Wetland Committee with a comprehensive mandate to foster cooperation for the conservation of wetland types, resources and biodiversity in all regions of the country.

• Share national expertise and experience nationally and internationally.

• Support international environmental conservation initiatives and treaties (e.g the Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Biological Diversity) and the programmes of IUCN - the World Conservation Union and Wetlands International.

Objective 3. Ensure Wetland Data Management

• Establish a standardized national approach to wetland classification,inventory and data integration.

• Establish a national wetland status and trends survey on a regular cycle.

• Establish standardized national protocols for description of the functions and values of the biodiversity of wetland ecosystems.

• Establish a comprehensive national data base on the location and status of wetlands.

Objective 4. Promote Effective Wetland Science

• Establish national priorities for wetland scientific research with regular review.

• Link wetland science agencies, researchers and managers in an effective national communications network to serve management and policy objectives.

• Sponsor regular national and regional wetland science symposia and workshops.

• Establish catalytic programmes to promote priority national and regional wetland research and centres of expertise.

• Establish national wetland scholarships to promote innovative scientific, socio-economic and technological research on wetland issues of importance to the people of the country.

• Support effective wetland research in alignment with national priorities and initiatives to conserve the nation’s biodiversity and sensitive lands and waters.

Objective 5. Achieve Local Wetland Conservation

• Support programmes to secure wetland habitats in all regions of the nation.

• Establish or expand a national network of protected wetland areas in national, provincial, state, territorial and regional parks, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, and other protected and wilderness areas.

• Secure priority wetlands for targeted conservation objectives across the country.

Objective 6. Educate People on the Value of Wetlands

• Establish a comprehensive national wetland education and awareness programme through innovative technologies in cooperation with all governments and the non-government and private sectors.

• Highlight the economic, social and beneficial functions and values that wetland ecosystems provide to society.

§2.4 Defining Wetlands at a National Level

82. The term “wetland” should be established clearly either through the use of the Convention on Wetland’s definition or one tailored to the country. The definition included in the text of the Convention is: “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres” including areas which “may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands” (Articles 1.1 and 2.1).

83. “Wetland” is used collectively to describe permanently or intermittently wet land, shallow water and land-water margins. Wetlands may be found in all types of waters whether fresh or saline, and are characterised in their natural state by flora, soils and fauna that are generally adapted to wet conditions.

84. Where a nationally-adopted definition of wetlands exists and is soundly based on national scientific expertise, it is appropriate to use it. This is particularly helpful if tied to a national wetland classification system that establishes a detailed reference point for wetland inventories and conservation programmes. The existing Ramsar Classification System for Wetland Type is designed to be quite general, a valuable source in the absence of more detail nationally.

85. In countries such as the United States, Norway or Canada, wetland definitions have been in place for many years and are frequently enshrined in legislation and in policy. These definitions are generally compatible with the broad definition adopted by the Convention (see paragraph 82) and are the basis of these nations’ wetland programmes. They may differ from the Ramsar definition in the full scope of what is included as a wetland, particularly with regard to coastal and marine systems. Such nationally-developed wetland definitions and classification systems are an important element of the flexibility of the Ramsar Convention. The differences are not a limitation; it is only important to recognize that these exist and ensure the appropriate management agencies are aware of this.

86. Several examples of differences between nationally-based wetland definitions, in comparison to those used either in other nations or under the Convention, are cited below. Numerous others could be cited.

(a) Water depth limits for wetland systems — the Convention uses six metres whereas some nations limit shallow water wetlands, especially in marine zones, to two metres at low tide;

(b) Limits for defining water presence on an annual basis — the number of days per year when water is present at the surface of a wetland is used in some nations as a diagnostic tool. The Convention has not provided any guidance in this area whereas some countries specifically require 7, 14 or an undetermined but measurable number of days per year when free water of a minimum depth can be observed; and

(c) Depth of organic materials in defining peatlands — 30, 40 and 100 cm are examples globally and are nationally adopted to allow data consistency with national soil surveys. The Convention has not provided guidance in this area.

§2.5 Defining Stakeholders

87. A key step in any National Wetland Policy initiative is to define who is either affected by, or potentially involved with, the design, discussion and implementation of the Policy. This is important to ensure consultations include all those groups with a vested interest or capacity to make the end result as effective and achievable as possible. Stakeholders include those agencies, institutions, and groups who have an interest in, or are affected by, the National Wetland Policy. It includes government departments, non-governmental organizations, local governments and many others. The spectrum this covers will be quite variable by nation. [Case Study 2]

§2.6 Initiating National Consultations

88. The scope of national consultations in advance of a National Wetland Policy will be different in each nation. The lead agency must define how broadly to design these consultations in terms of stakeholders, time, travel and complexity. In federal states, for example, jurisdiction for wetland management may in fact clearly rest at a lower level of government than at the national government’s level. In a large nation, those agencies charged with these consultations will face a more complex task of extensive travelling to seek input.

89. One useful approach is to seek input through the hosting of a national stakeholders’ workshop (see Section 2.7). It would draw together representatives of major government, business and non-governmental organizations, aboriginal or indigenous peoples, local communities and private citizens as appropriate. Such a meeting would build a supporting constituency and be a useful device to create a network of informed partners who can “spread the word” about the Policy and its proposals. These individuals could organize and lead local consultations, particularly at the community level. In this context, the national consultation meeting could be used as a training workshop to a degree.

90. Direct consultations may also involve many small meetings at the local level or with targeted groups or organizations. A standard consultation presentation in audio-visual format and hand-out written materials can be developed. Such “face-to-face” meetings are often essential for interministerial and intergovernmental consultations as well as with key local government and non-governmental organizations.

91. Indirect contacts not involving visits or locally arranged meetings, may involve the same consultation materials but be conducted by telephone or mail. This requires more frequent follow-up contacts to ensure responses but is cheaper overall in terms of travel and staff time.

92. Interministerial consultations with potentially affected or influential government agencies at this stage is quite important. This can be initiated through appropriate correspondence between Ministers and an invitation for their Departments’ involvement and contributions.

93. Public consultation may require sophisticated public media programmes that can be very costly. Such consultation requires extensive travel, detailed logistical planning and expertise in order to be effective. However, in many jurisdictions such public consultation is required by law to introduce new government initiatives and is thus not avoidable. Public consultation may require many types of printed and electronic meeting products and numerous, potentially difficult, public meetings.

94. The key issue here is to find the right balance in providing consultative suggestions which are early and open-ended enough to genuinely benefit from consultative input. It is critical to create a sense of empowerment and ownership among those people and agencies consulted (i.e. not presenting a fait accompli), while at the same time having information that is sufficiently thought-through to show clearly the various implications of policy options.

95. It is advantageous to provide a basic outline in order to define the scope of the process and focus discussions. A degree of reiteration in some of these processes may be appropriate, e.g. an evolving draft text. This should be kept within sensible bounds so that the process is resource-effective and is completed! [Case Study 3]

§2.7 Implementing National and Local Wetland Policy Workshops

96.National Wetland Policy stakeholder workshops have been shown in several nations to be an effective consensus-building mechanism. They may be organized to reach a common understanding of the issues related to wetland conservation and management, to identify obstacles and problems in dealing with these issues, and to suggest solutions or means to overcoming existing problems. These workshops may be organized at several levels. In some cases, local and informal meetings are essential as people in small communities may find larger, centralized meetings intimidating or impossible to attend. In other cases, a formal national policy workshop can be quite appropriate.

97. The goal is to develop guidance for the drafting of the concepts and general approach for a Wetland Policy. A secondary goal is to act as an educational forum, with the materials to be discussed designed to suit the level and complexity of the issues and the interests and expertise of the people attending, from local to national. These workshops are designed to be of use to the government(s) in the nation in writing and implementing effective wetland policy in their respective jurisdictions. The merits of such a workshop are discussed below.

98. A major impetus for a workshop can come through the interest and commitment of the federal or national government to lead the development of a National Wetland Policy (or in some countries, a state by state set of policies). Guidance is required to formulate a set of policy statements. The workshop, bringing together a wide variety of government and/or non-governmental organizations and interest groups, can be an important source of such guidance.

99. Another aspect is to develop a focal point for discussion of land use planning and community-based issues affecting wetland resources. At a national scale, such discussions could be between the national government, industry interests, national non-governmental organizations, and other provincial and state levels of government. Locally, this would involve community organizations and the local government in cooperation with a national agency. Consultations could be lead by a National Wetland Committee (see Section 2.2 above).

§2.8 Creating a Wetland Policy Writing Team

100. The designated lead agency must take responsibility for writing drafts of the Policy and other required consultation and briefing materials. A selected group of knowledgeable staff with the resources needed for report production and with good writing skills should be established. Some or all of these people may also lead interaction with stakeholders and with consultation groups. The group can draw upon other agencies and sectors through temporarily assigned staff to assist in establishing a Writing Team. Their work will be based on results of national consultations. Once established, the Writing Team should stay intact until all of the Policy’s writing requirements are completed. Some staff may only meet with the other members during periodic team sessions, as they may be required to travel back and forth from another location. Too many trips becomes expensive and difficult for the individuals involved. Each team member should bring a range of policy, scientific and political expertise to prepare the first draft of the Policy.

101. At least one member of the Writing Team should have central government agency experience, thus having a strong awareness of “how the system works” in the respective government department(s) leading the initiative.

§2.9 Ensuring Political Support for the Next Steps

102. At each step (i.e the major drafts), interaction with senior government staff and media releases at the minister, prime minister or presidential level can be used to demonstrate the Government’s support for the ongoing process and ultimately its adoption. Press releases or major policy speeches by the Minister or Head of Government (Prime Minister, etc.) are tools to announce the Government’s commitment to both completing the Policy and financially supporting it, if appropriate, by some fixed date.

103. Throughout these steps, the Minister responsible for the development of the Policy should be in regular contact with colleagues in the Cabinet and their departments and agencies. Staff must be prepared to keep these agencies and their Ministers informed and supportive to ensure smooth processing of the document through to the Cabinet level. Early resolution of concerns raised by these Ministers through such consultations is critical to the subsequent adoption of the Policy.

§2.10 Time Scales

104. As noted above, time is an important factor in wetland policy development. All of the steps in the process require a reasonable understanding and commitment in terms of time. At the outset, sufficient time for staff involvement and for seeing the process through should be anticipated and properly planned. A flow-chart detailing scheduling of text development, meetings and interagency consultations through to expected Government announcement should be developed and updated regularly.

105. Once adopted, the Policy itself requires a time factor to be built in. It must not become a static and dated document. A regularized review and reauthorization clause may be helpful to allow updating and addition of future material to the Policy. The implementation of the Policy also should be based upon a work plan that specifies delivery dates of actions and the results expected by clearly measurable dates.

§2.11 Completing Consultations and Preparing Additional Drafts of the Policy

106. As each of several possible drafts is completed, a limited round of additional consultation may be valuable or legally required. These drafts may or may not be open for public and/or non-government agency review. Selected further consultation with affected ministries of the Government and other sectors seeking response to their concerns will be expected. Further drafts developed through continued consultation, legal advice and response to the directions and wishes of the Government should be expected.

§2.12 Developing a Cabinet Memorandum

107. After all consultations with other ministries are completed, the governmental system of the particular nation will establish the next steps. In some nations, a formal Memorandum-to-Cabinet, White Paper or other documents will be prepared in a prescribed format that must be endorsed by all Ministers on the advice of senior departmental experts and managers. Adoption by Parliament, enactment of new legislation or creation of a constitutional amendment, are all variations of such national level endorsement and are appropriate to particular national systems of government. Careful political manoeuvring will ensure a lack of conflict at the Cabinet level during this final Ministerial review stage and ensure smooth adoption of this document, the culmination often of years of effort.

§2.13 Government Endorsement and Approval, Announcement

108. Once this Cabinet (or as appropriate Presidential, etc.) approval is received, the lead agency may consider communication strategies for public distribution of the Policy. A public event and announcement by the Government can be planned. This includes printing sufficient copies for short- and long-term distribution, press materials, media interviews, selected popular press articles and meetings with specific implementation partners. There is a need for concise, easily read and attractively presented communication pieces.


§3.1 Sections of the Policy Text

109. A National Wetland Policy may contain some or all of the following sections:

Background Review - historical context, actions to date;

Foreword - how did this arise and why, the commitment of the Government;

Overview - a look at the nation’s wetland resources and their economic/social and environmental values;

Role of the National Government - in the context of constitutional jurisdiction and planning authorities;

Role of Partnerships - with other levels of government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector;

Definitions - of wetlands and terms to be used;

Goal of the Policy - brief and tied to sustainable development and biodiversity objectives;

Guiding Principles - examples would include recognition of stakeholder and government aspirations, aboriginal peoples, landowner rights, global concerns and local needs; and

Specific Objectives - about five objective statements are reasonable;

Policy Strategies - 10 to 15 strategies followed by action items, tailored to national needs.

§3.2 Goals and Principles

110. The Policy should include one, or at most a few, simple goal statement(s) and appropriate principles with regard to other national policies and cultural considerations. Many of the existing wetland policies developed to date have presented simple and short goal statements. The wording varies but revolves around two themes: that the wetlands of the nation will be used in a sustainable manner for current and future generations of the people and that their conservation is essential to the environmental and economic well-being of the nation.

111. Principles are essentially statements of commitment as to how the Government views its responsibilities to implement the National Wetland Policy, consistent with its constitutional jurisdiction and the cultural practices of the nation. A set of perhaps eight to ten principles drafted in a concise manner is reasonable. This could include a principle that none of the Government’s actions implemented through this Policy will infringe on the rights of its component provincial or state governments and that these actions will ensure a spirit of cooperation with them. A similar principle with regard to aboriginal or indigenous peoples and local communities could be identified. Principles can note the linkages of the Policy to the Government’s commitment to sustainable development, the environment, or biodiversity conservation, as appropriate.

§3.3 Objectives for a National Wetland Policy

112. Objectives will need to focus on a variety of key words as they often become the image of the Policy. A list of objectives (five to ten have been noted in several National Wetland Policies adopted to date) is required with the intention that all are of equal importance in the announcement of the Policy. However, practical implementation of the Policy may result in the observation that only one or two of these receive the greatest public attention. For example, Canada’s announcement of its federal wetland policy in 1992 contained seven objectives focusing on maintenance of wetland functions, advance land use planning affecting wetlands, no net loss of wetland functions on federal lands, enhancement and rehabilitation of wetlands, securement of sites of national significance, mitigation of the impact of all federal activities on any wetland in the nation, and wise use of wetland resources. The no net loss goal however has proven to be the single most noted aspect of this Policy.

113. The following potential objectives are useful to consider in the drafting of a National Wetland Policy:

• Ensure that a National Wetland Policy, as well as any programmes formulated under it, are linked to other land, soil, water, air, wildlife conservation and economic development policies in order to secure the wise use of the nation’s wetlands and meet international wetland conservation responsibilities.

• Promote the prevention of further wetland loss and encourage the rehabilitation of the nation’s wetlands by maintaining their integrity; preserving the genetic diversity of these wetlands; and ensuring that the enjoyment and economic use of wetlands are sustainable.

114. A National Wetland Policy Stakeholders Workshop (see Section 2.7) would examine how to encourage these objectives and how they could be acted upon by the appropriate federal, provincial (state), territorial and municipal levels of government through a set of policy implementation strategies.

§3.4 Policy Implementation Strategies

115. The Policy should include specific, measurable implementation strategies. Policy strategies must address key areas that demonstrate the priorities of the Government but also foster the desired level of cooperation and involvement of other interests. Several areas that can be incorporated in strategies are discussed below. This is not a comprehensive list and serves only to provide general ideas.

116. Linkages through these strategies to other national water, biodiversity and sustainable development policy initiatives should be further explored. Other themes than those below will be important to some National Wetland Policies. Section 3.5 examines the titles of themes adopted by several Governments in their National Wetland Policies. The discussion below only focuses on eight areas that can be considered for policies and does not cover all of the possible themes.

I. Create common wetland conservation objectives through the development and coordination of federal, provincial (state), territorial and municipal wetland policies; and link those wetland policies to other land, soil, water, air, wildlife conservation and economic development policies to ensure wetland conservation is part of comprehensive national land use planning.

• Recognize that wetlands are both land and water.

• Clarify government (at all levels) jurisdictional and legal responsibilities concerning wetlands, particularly those in marine and intertidal areas.

• Relate government initiatives and existing policies or guidelines (e.g. federal, provincial and state agriculture policies, fish habitat policies, waterbird and shorebird management, forestry and agriculture-food agreements) to wetland conservation.

• Establish within each province, state or territory, a process or lines of communication for translating policy recommendations for all agencies involved into reasonable land use decisions at the local level.

• Urge all provinces, states and territories to develop a comprehensive wetland conservation policy or strategy.

• Include wetland conservation as an integral component of national biodiversity, water and other conservation strategies.

• Develop exemplary management practices and practical guidelines for protected wetland area management.

• Make better use of international agreements for conservation and sustainable development as well as model policies on successful wetland policies developed in other nations, with examples derived from the Ramsar Wise Use Concept.

II.Improve coordination and communication among government agencies and non-government agencies.

• Identify at the national level (and the provincial, state and territorial levels as appropriate) lead agencies with a broad mandate for natural resources management to orchestrate coordination and communication about wetlands.

• Develop a structured approach to implementing coordinated national wetland programmes that will foster effective wetland projects, such as through a National Wetland Secretariat or Committee.

• Establish a national forum for wetland conservation communications to systematize wetland references and ecological data on wetlands and establish an information clearing house.

III. Recognize and encourage the role and efforts of local community and non-governmental organizations in conserving wetlands; local communities and non-governmental organizations from all disciplines can assume a strong role in the development and implementation of wetland conservation programmes.

• Provide financial resources for these groups to enable them to assist in the development of policies and/or programmes under a strategy for wetland conservation.

• Facilitate additional fund raising activities for wetland conservation.

• Promote partnership projects with local communities and local, national and international non-governmental organizations with expertise on wetlands.

• Facilitate the role of the private sector in voluntary, non-regulatory stewardship of wetland resources and as partners in conservation projects with local communities, government and environmental non-governmental organizations.

IV.Coordinate and rationalize government programmes to minimize their adverse effects on wetlands and to encourage wetland conservation; create programme incentives that will encourage the landowner and conservation agencies to maintain wetlands in a natural state.

• Identify all government programmes which influence or impact wetlands and assess the influence that such programmes are having on wetlands and agricultural and forested lands.

• Focus on the wise use of natural resources in wetlands and economic benefits to land owners and users through their involvement in wetland conservation.

• Remove government funded incentive programmes that result in unnecessary wetland diking, drainage or filling.

• Ensure that environmental impact assessments are conducted on major government and non-government projects.

• Examine tax relief for protected wetlands, particularly through local voluntary action by landowners and through federal, provincial and state and municipal programmes, drawing on successful examples from other jurisdictions. [Signpost to Handbook 3]

• Develop use of landowner conservation agreements and other voluntary legal mechanisms for individual sites.

• Evaluate the requirements under law, and the implications in terms of compensation to landowners, for wetland retention in many localities.

V.Ensure proper maintenance and management of protected wetlands after designation, acquisition and/or retention.

• Ensure that adequate financial and human resources are provided within federal, provincial, state, territorial and municipal budgets for the management of protected wetland areas.

• Fund a national wetland programme through the coordinated, cooperative efforts of the government, non-governmental organizations and corporate as well as private landowner sectors in the nation.

• Design no net loss or net gain projects focusing on wetland functions and values (including wetland area where administratively required) within national, regional or municipal wetland programmes.

• Develop, where appropriate, enabling policy and legislation to facilitate fund raising activities that can be used by government and non-governmental organizations to conserve wetlands.

• Encourage non-governmental organizations that wish to retain ownership of the wetlands they purchase to examine opportunities, where compatible with the maintenance of the ecological character of the site, for revenue generation. This may include revenues derived from continued crop production particularly with local communities, or leasing revenues from agriculture, hunting or trapping, tourism and scientific study of plants and animals.

• Support the education of scientific, technical and administrative staff to encourage innovative land conservation and land management mechanisms.

• Encourage and facilitate the involvement of women, local communities and volunteers in wetland management.

VI. Close gaps in knowledge that currently exist in wetland classification, inventory, research and evaluation, and ensure the proper synthesis, storage and retrieval needed to access this knowledge.

• The implementation strategies should address areas of national and international interest or priority. Examples include but are not limited to:

(a) socio-economic valuation, inventory and wetland classification;

(b) hydrology and impacts of climate change;

(c) environmental and ecological cost/benefit accounting;

(d) impacts of government programmes;

(e) restoration, rehabilitation, mitigation and compensation for loss of wetlands; and

(f) maintaining the ecological character of wetlands.

VII.Improve public awareness.

• Present wetland conservation in combination with soil, land, water, air and wildlife conservation as well as sustainable development and wise use principles in an ecological context rather than in isolation.

• Demonstrate and explain the linkages of wise use of natural resources and water quality and quantity issues to wetlands conservation.

• Emphasize public and decision maker education programmes in addition to those of school children.

• Utilize national communications opportunities (e.g. World Wetlands Day, public service announcements, videos, bus signs, Internet) to advertise wetland conservation.

• Broaden agricultural, water and other sectoral programmes to promote wetland conservation awareness.

• Encourage networking through use of landowner participation programmes, recognition signs and other awareness techniques.

VIII. Ensure delivery of international commitments.

• Foster cooperation across international borders for the management of shared watersheds/ river basins and their wetlands.

• Develop national delivery mechanisms for the principles of, and Government’s commitments to, the Ramsar Convention.

• Explore integration of wetland goals consistent with the objectives and interests of international treaties on water, biodiversity and sustainable development.

§3.5 Examples of National Strategies

117. Appendix 4 lists examples of government and non-government wetland conservation policies and strategies in place or being developed around the World. This includes national and sub-national initiatives. Table 2 provides a summary of the titles of the implementation strategies listed in nine examples of existing National Wetland Policy documents. These include the adopted or draft National Wetland Policies/Action Plans of Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Jamaica, Malaysia, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda. In some cases, these documents are only “draft” or non-government “consultation” papers but are used here to illustrate opportunities for developing strategic approaches.

118. In the examples cited, common emphasis on several strategic approaches are evident. These include the need for improving public awareness and education; developing cooperation and partnerships between levels of government from national to local; developing supporting legislation and interrelated land and water use policies and programmes; implementing wetland site management responsibilities; developing a sound basis for the policy through scientific research and expertise; developing logistical and financial capacity for policy implementation; and meeting international commitments. Overall, five to thirteen strategies have been developed in the examples outlined in Table 2, drafted to give a clear vision of the subject matter and ready acceptance across the nation.

Table 2: Implementation Strategies in Proposed or Adopted National Wetland Policies/Plans


1. managing Commonwealth lands and waters

2. implementing interrelated policy and legislation

3. involving people in wetland management

4.     working in partnership

5. scientific base

6. international commitments


1. public awareness

2. managing federal lands

3. conservation of special sites

4. cooperation with others

5. a national network of sites

6. scientific support

7. international commitments

Costa Rica:

1. general issues

2. wetland classification

3. landscape classification

4. administrative organization

5. financial aspects

6. wetland protection

7. activities permitted in wetlands

8. management of wetlands on public and state agency lands

9. wetlands on private lands

10. integration of the public benefits of wetlands

11. exclusions and allowed actions


1. rationale

2.     wetland inventory and strengthening of evaluation tools

3. harmonization of public policies

4. restoration of wetlands

5. information and awareness programme


1. mangrove and coastal wetlands planning

2. protecting and enhancing site functions and values

3. addressing local impacts

4. roles and responsibilities of key agencies

5. enforcement and compliance

6. review of legislation and regulation


1. cross-sectoral coordination and linkages

2. legislation and other policies

3. economic incentives and disincentives

4. land and water use planning

5. site management

6. sustainable use

7. assessment and monitoring

8. information, awareness and training

9. international actions

10. institutional development and financial support


1. institutional considerations

2. legal aspects

3. research studies

4. sustainable development

5. education

6. public awareness

7. capacity building

8. international cooperation

Trinidad and Tobago:

1. education, public awareness and training

2. management of publicly-owned wetlands

3. protected wetlands

4. cooperative wetlands protection

5. wetland studies

6. institutional and legal considerations


1. no wetland drainage

2. sound environmental management

3. sustainable use

4. conservation

5. water supply and treatment

6. land use, ownership

7. restoration of sites

8. environmental impact assessment, monitoring

9. public awareness

10. research and inventory

11. capacity building

12. international actions

13. legislation, institutional arrangements


§4.1 Defining Who is Responsible for Implementation

119. It is essential that a clear agreement emerges through the consultation process as to who will take the lead in implementing the National Wetland Policy. This may involve one national department or organization acting as a lead coordinator and facilitator to work closely with the many ministries, partners and stakeholders involved. It is also important to define the roles for other agencies with responsibilities for wetland management. [Case Study 4]

§4.2 Developing Implementation Guidelines

120. Several options exist but all lead to one fact: the implementing agencies require assistance and training to understand what the Policy says and means, who is in charge, what expertise is available and where, how roles and responsibilities are distributed, and many related questions. A publication entitled an Implementation Guide can be developed in tandem with development of the Policy itself. In some cases, this Guide may be easier to develop after several years of practical experience with the Policy.

121. The Guide must be useful to stakeholders and wetland resource users. Thus it is targeted at the managers of wetlands: this could be government agencies, local communities, public or private landowners, and other stakeholders. In the case of government agencies, this may include all land managers and policy makers under the jurisdiction of the respective government which is leading the adoption of the Policy. A Guide can assist in the following areas:

(a) interpretation of terminology and objectives articulated in the text of the Policy;

(b) description of sources of expertise available, the nature of partnership and the role of key agencies; and

(c) understanding the roles and responsibilities of stakeholder and implementation agencies.

122. Through an Implementation Guide, clear communications can be developed on who the Policy applies to through the production of public awareness materials.

§4.3 Defining What Resources Are Needed

123. In some cases, definition of resource requirements may interfere with the ability to even discuss the goals and objectives or design of a National Wetland Policy. When resources are scarce in government agencies, significant posturing and argument over who is in a best position to manage any new resources for implementation may arise. It may be effective in such cases to separate discussion of what needs to be done from who and how to do it. This separation of policy development from discussion on who is responsible and how it will be funded, may avoid issues that make it difficult to come to any national consensus.

124. A budget for implementation of a National Wetland Policy initiative may only become required once it is to be presented to the Government for approval, i.e. after consultations on what needs to be done are completed. The resourcing aspects of such a National Wetland Policy are then best presented in a single section, rather than throughout the document. A “resource needs assessment” made at the outset may need updating during the life of the Policy, so detailed costings may not be appropriate in the document itself.

125. An “Action Plan” may be a suitable vehicle. Typically, this will involve a list of actions to deliver the objectives and goals of the Policy with measurable timelines. When budgeted staff and financial resources are added this can be considered a “Work Plan” (see Section 4.8 below). It might be organized under the titles of the adopted implementation strategies.

126. Much of the Policy will be delivered across a variety of sectors and activities that are already provided for — that is, where the specific wetland-related components may be difficult or impossible to isolate. For this point, it is important to describe rather than attempt to exhaustively quantify the resources involved. A summary description of what new resources may be needed to give effect to the Policy will thus be useful. A statement should also be provided of what type of resource savings might be expected from effective implementation of the Policy.

§4.4 Legislative Requirements

127. One of the components of the Wise UseConcept of the Convention is that Contracting Parties review legislation that has negative impacts on wetlands as well as develop, where appropriate, new legislation to promote wetland wise use and protection. This is a crucial step and can involve a complex series of studies to evaluate and propose alternatives to existing programmes, policies and legislation that involve disincentives to conservation practices and negatively affect wetlands.

128. To assist in the review and development of national legislation supporting wetland conservation, the Convention on Wetlands and IUCN Environmental Law Centre cooperated in the production of Resolution VII.7 on Guidelines for reviewing laws and institutions to promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands and its associated Annex, which were adopted at the Convention’s COP7 in May 1999. These documents followed an international workshop, convened in July 1998, entitled Designating Methodologies to Review Laws and Institutions Relevant to Wetlands in which a group of national case studies from Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, India, Peru, Uganda and the Wadden Sea Secretariat were presented.

129. In some countries, new wetland legislation is needed or expected; in many African nations for example clearly defined laws and penalties for non-compliance are encouraged. In other nations, new or additional legislation is often felt to be less effective than encouraging non-regulatory solutions with voluntary compliance and land stewardship approaches. Non-government agencies and local organizations can be effective partners in the implementation of these policies. There is no standard rule or formula in this area as legal needs and arrangements vary from country to country. [Case Study 5, Case Study 6]

130. An analysis of compatibilities, synergies and conflicts in legislation and policy.(aiming to resolve any conflicts identified) is needed. Wherever possible, existing legal mechanisms can be used and enactment of new legislation considered where necessary. Legislative review also means modifying and repealing legislation and policies of the Government that may be inconsistent or outmoded in terms of the Government’s wetland conservation objectives. This is difficult and can be the subject of rivalry by competing interests within the Government system.

131. It is recognized that legislative needs and opportunities will vary from nation to nation, in particular between developed and developing nations with radically different economies and political systems. The introduction of new legislation and successful implementation and enforcement of these can be severe tests of endurance for those involved in making them work.

132. Voluntary action is, in principle, often preferred over compulsory legislatively-driven approaches. However, a basic ability to bring about the right result, even where parties do not volunteer it, must be assured by the provision of last resort enforcement powers.

§4.5 Interministerial Harmonization

133. Policy should be implemented in consultation and harmony with other (possibly conflicting) government agency priorities and policies. This must be lead by an agency with enough influence and/or authority to make the process work. An Interdepartmental Wetland Policy Committee directly reporting to Cabinet Ministers with senior level representatives (Deputy Minister level for example) may be effective here.

134. There is no simple answer to the question of “what takes precedence?” in the Policy. The responsibilities, mandates or legislative authorities of other agencies may be in conflict with the Government’s desired wetland conservation and wise use objectives. In some nations, a central agency is empowered to develop and enforce the Policy, in others it acts in a less formal, advisory capacity. The degree to which any agency leads and reacts is often a function of the strengths and weaknesses of individual arms of the national government and the constitutional powers of such organizations.

135. It is essential, as noted in earlier sections, that all affected Ministers and their agencies be involved early in the development and consultation phases of the National Wetland Policy exercise. An Interdepartmental Wetland Policy Committee has in some cases been effective in advance of, and after, adoption of the Policy. This Committee can serve to develop consensus on issues, resolve conflicts, and ease implementation procedures between ministries.

136. It should also be recognized that many of the Policy’s strategies can be implemented through existing government (and non-government) programmes and agencies in a cooperative manner. This can involve minor reshaping of such programmes. A key aspect of this approach is that it may mean significant reduction in new budgetary measures for the Policy’s implementation, through effective use of existing budgets and staff. It can also assist countries in focusing requests for international assistance, with only clear and discrete needs requiring such support.

137. Techniques for reshaping these existing programmes include evaluation of existing priorities, refocusing the direction of specific staff responsibilities and integration of new approaches and technology in a rationale and cautious manner allowing for training of staff. All such means must be conducive to generating the support of the bureaucracy rather than their fear of overload or the unknown.

§4.6 Coordination Needs

138.  One national body needs to be designated as the lead for implementation with some resources for ongoing expert policy/scientific staff. It would coordinate and/or provide advice, training and interministerial interaction. This ideally should be an agency with resident wetland expertise and institutional experience at the national and international level in wetlands and environmental conservation. In many cases, this will correspond with the nationally designed lead agency for implementation of the nation’s obligations under the Convention on Wetlands. [Case Study 7]

§4.7 Developing an Implementation Plan

139. An Implementation Plan (a “Work Plan”) can describe how each strategy is to be achieved, over the short- and long-term, and by who. If new resources are available, it will define budget and staff needs on a planning horizon appropriate to the nation, e.g. five to ten years. In some cases resources are not supplied so this budget step is not necessary. A strategy requiring implementation of the Policy by the individual agencies within their existing budgets and programmes is then needed.

140. Circumstances will often dictate the best way to present work plans and programmes — for example they might be presented as part of the Policy document itself (e.g. as an annex), or might best be worked into existing instruments of responsible agencies.

141. The key for the National Wetland Policy is to assure delivery of the Government’s commitments. This involves providing clarity about who has to do what, by when and to what standard, and where this information is available. Those responsible for this “delivery assurance function” should, at this stage, test completeness of coverage, i.e. whether every action indicated by the Policy can actually be found in the Implementation Plan and take steps to fill any gaps. Phasing and sequencing of actions should be made clear where relevant. Work plans should (at some level) indicate what has to happen if actions are not delivered as planned.

§4.8 Training

142. Implementation of training for wetland managers on environmental impact assessment or planning staff on the scope of the Policy, and training on wetlands in general, are essential to the success of wetland policy implementation. This should not be thought of as optional: as well as being good sense, promotion of training in wetland research, management and wardening is an obligation under Article 4.5 of the Ramsar Convention.

143. There are many examples of wetland training initiatives. These include numerous regional and national courses and workshops organized by various agencies. For example, the Japanese Foreign Aid Agency (JICA) set up a national training course on wetland conservation and migratory birds in 1994 for an initial five-year period. The International Course on Wetland Management run by the Wetland Advisory and Training Centre in Lelystad, The Netherlands, provides a six-week comprehensive programme each year. The Ramsar Bureau has undertaken an international survey of wetland training courses. This was published as the Directory of Wetland Management Training Opportunities, listing over 67 training initiatives in 16 nations (Ramsar Bureau 1998b).

144. Few nations have developed a specific implementation guide and training course geared to a National Wetland Policy or Strategy. One example is the Implementation Guide for Federal Land Managers (Lynch Stewart et al. 1996). The Government of Canada and its partner agency, the North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada), are implementing a course entitled Working with Wetlands. It has been presented in several formats tailored to federal government agencies in Canada. The course is marketed to groups of a least 20 managers and includes lectures, case studies and field visits to wetlands. A similar course is under consideration by the Government of Australia. An Implementation Program for the National Wetland Policy has also been established in Uganda.

145. Soon after adoption of a National Wetland Policy, a wetlands training “needs assessment” could be carried out at the national level. This need not be highly detailed in character, but should provide an outline, in terms of issues and centres of delivery, of where the main needs and shortfalls exist. Another aspect worth considering at the national level is an evaluation of training providers. This includes an inventory of resources, courses, institutions and consultants that may be relevant to meeting the needs identified.

§4.9 Sharing Experience Between Nations

146. One of the most interesting aspects of the Ramsar Convention is its capacity to foster sharing of experience. In the area of National Wetland Policies, interchange and visits of wetland policy specialists and experts are now occurring internationally. Several of the authors of these Guidelines have shared their experience with nations initiating a National Wetland Policy. For example, Canada has informally provided advice to Malaysia, Australia and several other Ramsar Contracting Parties in their development of National Wetland Policies. Similarly, Australia and Uganda have provided informal advice to Botswana and BirdLife International provided an informal advisor to Trinidad and Tobago.

147. Such interchanges have involved short-term invited visits or sabbaticals in some cases, and in others, informal exchanges of documents including confidential advice and review of draft policy text. Suggestions for implementation of consultation workshops, working with non-government groups, meeting with senior government officials, exploring funding mechanisms, and drafting of text have been involved. These have been regarded as helpful and positive initiatives by those involved. To date, this has been relatively informal, allowing the invited specialists from one Contracting Party to travel to one or several others, acting as short-term consultants and advisors. Hence, experience gained in one nation’s development of these Policies is shared and local expertise enhanced. In each case, a significant degree of adaptation is needed to fit local needs and circumstances. The Ramsar Bureau can be of assistance in fostering such exchanges between the Ramsar Convention Contracting Parties.

§4.10 Establishing a National Monitoring Programme

148. A separate but critical element in the implementation of a National Wetland Policy and any related programmes is the establishment of two types of monitoring: (a) wetland health and land use monitoring and (b) programme success monitoring. Both will assist in the targeting of wetland initiatives within the context/rationale of the Policy.

149. Monitoring of wetlands may involve recognition of their changing ecology, i.e. of their flora and fauna, hydrology or chemistry, in response to climate change, pollution and other long-term impacts. Habitat/land use studies on a national or regional scale will permit evaluation of the success of direct conservation initiatives — is wetland loss still occurring and why?

150. Monitoring of the success of the Policy is usually at the programme and institutional level. Are the resources expended on staff time well-targeted, for example? Are the data systems in place providing adequate information to the Government on where and how the programme is working? Are the goals of the Policy being met? The Policy needs to have measures built in for defining if it is working, for self-monitoring and, ultimately, adjustment if needed.

§4.11 Bibliography

151. A final piece of the Policy document is a bibliography of references cited in the document. The report could also include a comprehensive annex with references of national or international interest that are selected to enhance the cited literature as additional reading. In all cases, it is helpful to include only those documents that are accessible to the public. Such references are of little use if in some restricted access category or if they are out of print.


Lynch-Stewart, P., P. Niece, C. Rubec and I. Kessel-Taylor. 1996. The Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation, Implementation Guide for Federal Land Managers. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada. Ottawa, Canada. 32 p.

North American Wetlands Conservation Council Canada. 1998. A Wetland Conservation Vision for Canada. Booklet. Ottawa, Ontario. 8 p.

Pritchard, D. 1997. Implementation of the Ramsar Convention in Trinidad and Tobago. Royal Society for Protection of Birds and BirdLife International. RSPB Sabbatical Report. Bedfordshire, United Kingdom.

Ramsar Bureau. 1987. Review of National Reports Submitted by Contracting Parties and Review of the Implementation of the Convention Since the Second Meeting of the Conference in Groningen, Netherlands in May 1984. Document C.3.6, Proceedings, Third Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. Convention on Wetlands. pp. 231-236. Regina, Canada.

Ramsar Bureau. 1990. Review of National Reports Submitted by Contracting Parties and Review of the Implementation of the Convention Since the Third Meeting of the Conference in Regina, Canada in May/June 1987. Document C.4.18, Proceedings, Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. Convention on Wetlands. Vol. 3: pp. 351-354. Montreux, Switzerland.

Ramsar Bureau. 1993. Review of National Reports Submitted by Contracting Parties and Review of the Implementation of the Convention Since the Fourth Meeting of the Conference in Montreux, Switzerland in June/July 1990. Document C.5.16, Proceedings, Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. Convention on Wetlands. Vol. 3: pp. 469-485. Kushiro, Japan.

Ramsar Bureau. 1998a. Regional Overviews of the Implementation of the Convention since the Sixth Meeting of the Conference in Brisbane, Australia in March 1996. To be published in the Proceedings, Seventh Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. Convention on Wetlands. San José, Costa Rica.

Ramsar Bureau. 1998b. Directory of Wetland Management Training Opportunities. First Edition. October 1998.

Ramsar Bureau. 1998c. National Reports of Contracting Parties submitted for COP7. Available from Ramsar Web Site; also summary papers by Regional Coordinators for Ramsar Standing Committee Meeting, October 1998.

Rubec, C.D.A. 1996. Status of National Wetland Policy Development in Ramsar Nations. Proceedings, Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. Convention on Wetlands. Vol. 10/12A: pp. 22-29. Brisbane, Australia.

Smart, M. 1993. Summary of Comments in National Reports: Guidelines for the Establishment of National Wetland Policies. Proceedings, Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties. Convention on Wetlands. Vol. 2: pp. 152. Kushiro, Japan.

Shine, C. and L. Glowka. 1999. Guidelines for Reviewing Laws and Institutions to Promote the Conservation and Wise Use of Wetlands and Reviewing Laws and Institutions to Promote the Conservation and Wise Use of Wetlands, by Clare Shine. Ramsar Bureau. IUCN Environmental Law Centre Report to COP7 Ramsar Convention. San José, Costa Rica.

Appendix 1: Priorities for Establishment of Wetland Policies

A major expectation under the Convention on Wetlands is implementation of the wise use principle through a National Wetland Policy. National Wetland Policy actions were grouped into five categories in support of the implementation of wise use (as per Guidelines for the Implementation of the Wise Use Concept, Recommendation 4.10):

Priority Actions for Establishment of National Wetland Policies

1. Actions to improve institutional and organizational arrangements, including:

(a) establishment of institutional arrangements which will allow those concerned to identify how wetland conservation can be achieved, and how wetland priorities can be fully integrated into the planning process; and

(b) establishment of mechanisms and procedures for incorporating an integrated multidisciplinary approach into planning and execution of projects concerning wetlands and their support systems, in order to secure wetland conservation and sustainable development.

2. Actions to address legislation and government policies, including:

(a) review of existing legislation and policies (including subsidies and incentives) which affect wetland conservation;

(b) application, where appropriate, of existing legislation and policies of importance for the conservation of wetlands;

(c) adoption, as required, of new legislation and policies; and

(d) use of development funds for projects which permit conservation and sustainable utilization of wetland resources.

3. Actions to increase knowledge and awareness of wetlands and their values, including:

(a) interchange of experience and information on wetland policy, conservation and wise use between countries preparing and or implementing national wetland policies, or pursuing wetland conservation;

(b) increasing the awareness and understanding of decision makers and the public of the full benefits and values, within the terms of wise use, of wetlands. Among these benefits and values, which can occur on or off the wetland itself, are:

• sediment and erosion control,

• flood control,

• maintenance of water quality and abatement of pollution,

• maintenance of surface and underground water supply,

• support for fisheries, grazing and agriculture,

• outdoor recreation and education for human society,

• provision of habitat for wildlife, especially waterfowl, and

• contribution to climatic stability;

(c) review of traditional techniques of wise use, and elaboration of pilot projects which demonstrate wise use of representative wetland types; and

(d) training of appropriate staff in the disciplines which will assist in implementation of wetland conservation action and policies.

4. Actions to review the status of, and identify priorities for, all wetlands in a national context, including:

(a) execution of a national inventory of wetlands including classification of the sites;

(b) identification and evaluation of the benefits and values of each site (see 3b above);

(c) definition of the conservation and management priorities for each site, in accordance with the needs and conditions of each Contracting Party.

5. Actions to address problems at particular wetland sites, including:

(a) integration, from the outset, of environmental considerations in planning of projects which might affect the wetland (including full assessment of their environmental impact before approval, continuing evaluation during their execution, and full implementation of necessary environmental measures). The planning, assessment and evaluation should cover projects upstream of the wetland, those in the wetland itself, and other projects which may affect the wetland, and should pay particular attention to maintaining the benefits and values listed in 3b above;

(b) regulated utilization of the natural elements of wetland systems such that they are not over-exploited;

(c) establishment, implementation and, as necessary, periodic revision of, management plans which involve local people and take account of their requirements;

(d) designation for the Ramsar List of wetlands identified as being of international importance;

(e) establishment of nature reserves at wetlands, whether or not they are included in the List; and

(f) serious consideration of restoration of wetlands whose benefits and values have been diminished or degraded.

Appendix 2: Text of Recommendation 6.9

Appendix 3: Summary of National Wetland Policies and Action Plans/Strategies by Ramsar Contracting Party orRegion

The following listing of wetland policy documents provides an initial review of the many references available, but will not be complete as new initiatives are emerging in many nations on a regular basis. It has been updated with additional details provided in the 106 National Reports submitted for COP7 and available on the Ramsar Bureau Web Site. The authors apologize for any omissions and errors in the details provided. The Ramsar Bureau can assist the reader in obtaining the source address of particular reports. The documents are organized by nation or general region. Each cited report is supplemented with a key to identify if it is a:

GOP government policy;

GOS government strategy paper/ action plan or planning document;

NGO non-government proposed policy or strategy paper.

Algeria — has requested Global Environment Facility funding to develop its National Biodiversity Strategy which will incorporate a Wetland Action Plan.

Argentina — a National Biodiversity Strategy is in the final stages of development including actions for wetland conservation and wise use.

Armenia — the Government has developed the Lake Sevan Action Plan including wetland measures.

Australia — established a National Wetland Policy Advisory Committee and announced the Policy in February 1997. Commits all Commonwealth Departments to a common set of objectives, within a common single goal statement. Also has a national action plan and state programmes. Several states are developing or implementing wetland policies.

GOP Wetlands Policy of the Commonwealth Government of Australia. January 1997. Wetlands, Waterways and Waterbirds Unit, Biodiversity Group, Environment Australian. Canberra, Australia. 38 p. and appendix.

GOP New South Wales Wetlands Management Policy: Management Guidelines. 1996. Department of Land and Water Conservation. Sydney, Australia.

GOS Strategy for Conservation of the Biological Diversity of Wetlands in the Northern Territories. 1999. Draft Report, under public consultation. Government of the Northern Territories. Australia.

GOS Strategy for the Conservation and Management of Queensland's Wetlands. 1999. Draft Report. Government of Queensland. Australia.

GOP South Australia Wetland Policy. 1999. Draft Report, under public consultation. Government of South Australia. Australia.

GOP Tasmanian Wetland Policy. 1999. Draft Report, under public consultation. Government of Tasmania. Australia.

GOP Wetlands Conservation Program for Victoria. 1988. Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands. Water Victoria and Ministry of Planning and Environment. Victoria, Australia. 43p.

GOS Victoria Biodiversity Strategy. Directives on Management, Part II: Wetlands. 1997. Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands. Water Victoria and Ministry of Planning and Environment. Victoria, Australia.

GOP A Wetlands Conservation Policy for Western Australia. 1997. Department of Conservation and Land Management and Water and Rivers Commission. Perth, Australia. 23 p.

Austria — a National Wetland Strategy is under development to be integrated with the National Environment Action Plan and National Biodiversity Strategy.

Bahamas — a National Wetland Strategy will be developed in concert with the National Biodiversity Action Plan.

Bahrain — the Tublibay area is proposed as the focus for a Wetland Reserve to facilitate wetland research, public education and bird watching under the direction of the Environmental Affairs Department of the Ministry of Housing, Municipalities and Environment.

Bangladesh — a National Wetland Policy has been drafted by IUCN for the Ministry of Environment and Forests; it includes wetland wise use strategies.

Belarus — a regional proposal for the consideration of partner organizations.

NGO The Pripyat and Yaselda Wetlands — Natural Heritage of Polesia. 1997. Poster brochure. Belarusian Academy of Sciences and Michael Otto Foundation for Environmental Protection. Minsk, Belarus.

Belgium — wetland management with the exception of the North Sea is under regional government jurisdiction. A North Sea Law was adopted in 1997 focused on the marine environment and nature conservation. The Flanders Region in 1997 adopted wetland reserves legislation. The Wallon Region in 1989 established laws for creation of Wetland Zones of Biological Interest. A Nature Action Plan and programme with wetland components are currently being completed for initiation in 1999. In the Brussels Region, wetlands are broadly considered under the Capital Region’s integrated planning programme, particularly in relation to water courses.

Black Sea Region — a regional plan seeking the cooperation of seven governments and partner organizations.

NGO Conservation of Black Sea Wetlands: A Review and Preliminary Action Plan. IWRB Publication No. 33. 1994. Bordering the areas of Turkey, Georgia, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria. International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau. Slimbridge, United, Kingdom. 77 p.

Bolivia — the National Biodiversity Strategy will include elements on wetland conservation programmes.

Botswana — the National Wetland Policy and Strategy are being developed and are proposed for completion in 1999.

Brazil — a National Wetland Strategy in concert with legislative programmes is under development.

Bulgaria — a National Wetland Action Plan was developed in 1995. All but one of 15 key sites have seen development of local conservation measures. There is recognition that a comprehensive National Wetland Plan for all wetlands, including a national inventory, is needed and that this will require significant non-government and foreign development assistance.

GOS National Action Plan for the Conservation of the Most Important Wetlands of Bulgaria. 1995. Ministry of Environment. Sofia, Bulgaria. 55 p.

Burkina Faso — has initiated a National Wetland Program in association with the IUCN West Africa Programme and the Ministry of Environment and Water. It includes a national set of actions working towards wise use of wetlands. A National Wetland Policy has been initiated for completion in 1999.

Cambodia — a National Wetland Action Plan and a policy are under consideration.

NGO/GOS Wetland Action Plan for the Kingdom of Cambodia. October 1995. Draft Report. Wetlands International. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 81 p.

Canada — established a comprehensive Cabinet-approved federal wetland policy in 1991. Several of its ten provinces are now writing or implementing provincial wetland conservation and management policies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario have policies published and approved at the provincial Cabinet level).

GOP The Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation. 1991. Government of Canada. Environment Canada. Ottawa, Ontario. 14 p.

GOS The Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation. Implementation Guide for Federal Land Managers. Government of Canada. Environment Canada. 1996. Ottawa, Ontario. 32 p.

GOP Wetlands. A Statement of Ontario Government Policy. 1992. Order in Council 1448/92. Ontario Planning Act Section 3. Revised 1996, 1997. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Toronto, Ontario.

GOP (a) Wetland Management in the Settled Area of Alberta. Policy for Alberta’s Agricultural lands.(b) A Policy for Managing Alberta’s Peatlands and Non-settled Area Wetlands. Alberta Water Resources Commission. 1993. Edmonton, Alberta.

GOP Your Guide to Saskatchewan Wetlands Policy. 1995. Government of Saskatchewan. Regina, Saskatchewan.

GOP Draft New Brunswick Wetland Policy. 1999. Government of New Brunswick. Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Chad — sectoral consultations on the environment and desertification in 1994 assisted in the establishment of a National Action Plan for the Wise Use of Natural Resources. This includes wetland management. A National Biodiversity Strategy with wetland elements is also under development.

Chile — a National Wetland Strategy is proposed to be completed in early 1999 coordinated with national water and environment policies also under development.

China — the China Wetland Conservation Action Plan is being compiled by representatives of 17 government agencies. Meetings were held in 1996 and 1997. The Plan is to be approved by the State Council and includes a survey of national wetland resources through the State Forestry Administration. Various other ministries and institutions are also involved. WWF China and Wetlands International are providing assistance to this project.

GOS China Wetland Conservation Action Plan. 1999. Draft Mandarin text 1999 for discussion. State Forestry Administration. Beijing, China.

Colombia — coastal and marine wetlands are included in the 1998 Sustainable Coastal Zone Development Strategy for Colombia. A Freshwater Wetland Action Plan is also under consideration for development in 1999.

Comoros — the 1993 National Environment Policy and 1994 Action Plan include various wetland, water and coastal biodiversity initiatives. It is proposed that wetland valuation and protection initiatives will be incorporated in the next National Environment Action Plan.

Congo — wetlands are partially incorporated in national environmental and forestry action plans and Rural Development Guidelines. These are recognized as somewhat limiting for wetlands; hence, a National Wetland Strategy and Action Plan with eight objectives is being developed for implementation in the 1997-2002 period within a four-step process.

Costa Rica — published a national wetland map and National Wetland Action Plan in 1996.

NGO/GOP Estrategia Nacional de Conservación y Desarrollo Sostenible de los Humedales de Costa Rica. Ramsar Bureau, IUCN MesoAmerica Regional Office, and Ministerio del Ambiente y Energia (MINAE), CATIE (Centro Agronomico Tropical para la Investigación y Enseñanza. Draft February 1997. Includes Draft Law on Wetland Conservation.

Côte d’Ivoire — National Water, Nature and Environment Action Plans or legislation have been established for the wise use of natural resources, particularly in wetlands. A National Wetland Policy is planned.

Croatia — a Draft National Biological and Landscape Strategy and Action Plan is hoped to be adopted in 1999. It includes 16 objectives including an 11-point Wetland Protection Strategy.

Czech Republic —wetlands are being incorporated in the National Biodiversity Strategy.

Democratic Republic of Congo — a National Wetland Policy and Strategy will be considered when a national wetland inventory is completed; some wetland sites will be identified for protection through the National Biodiversity Strategy and a National Policy on the Strategic Management of the Environment. This is not possible under the current conditions in the country.

Denmark — the Nature Protection Act applies to all wetlands of the nation including specific regulations for salt marshes, fens, bogs and moors. All wetlands over 0.25 ha are protected. A major programme to restore and rehabilitate wetlands and prevent development on former wetlands was adopted in 1998, including an Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment.

Ecuador — will include a National Wetland Strategy in the National Biodiversity Strategy currently under development.

Egypt — a National Wetland Policy and Action Plan under MedWet is expected to be launched in 1999 in concert wit the National Biodiversity Strategy.

Estonia — a National Wetland Policy was adopted in March 1997 for mires, lakes and semi-natural wetlands. A National Wetland Strategy with World Bank assistance is expected to be released in late 1998.

European Union — an overview of intergovernmental commitments in western Europe.

GOS Wetland Conservation: Actions Committed by the European Community. 1996. Commission of the European Communities, Directorate General XI, Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection. Brussels, Belgium. 32 p.

Finland — undertook national planning to define peatland areas suited to development versus protection. Peatland conservation is a component of Finland’s national conservation policy.

GOS Basic Plan for Peatland Nature Conservation in Finland. 1987. Suo 38: 99-103. Paper by E. Kaakinen and P. Salminen. Helsinki, Finland.

France — adopted a National Action Plan in March 1995.

Case Studies

Case Study 1: The role of non-governmental organizations in a national wetland conservation strategy (Joseph Larson, University of Massachusetts, United States of America)

Case Study 2: Defining stakeholders in a National Wetland Policy (Nadra Nathai-Gyan, Wildlife Section, Government of Trinidad and Tobago)

Case Study 3: Consultations for wetland policy development (Clayton Rubec, Department of Environment, Government of Canada)

Case Study 4: Wetland policies within a federal state (Bill Phillips, Ramsar Bureau, formerly with Environment Australia)

Case Study 5: Review of sectoral policies and legislation related to wetlands (Paul Mafabi, National Wetlands Program, Government of Uganda)

Case Study 6: Compliance strategies (Roberta Chew, Department of State, and Gilberto Cintron, Fish and Wildlife Service, Government of the United States)

Case Study 7: Malaysia wetland policy: the development and coordination process (Sundari Ramakrishna, Wetlands International Asia-Pacific, Malaysia)

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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