Guidelines on Management Planning for Ramsar Sites and Other Wetlands


(first adopted as an annex to Resolution 5.7, 5th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Kushiro, Japan, June 1993)

Superseded by the New Guidelines for management planning for Ramsar sites and other wetlands (2002)


(i) General

Wetlands are dynamic areas, open to influence from natural and human factors. In order to maintain their biological diversity and productivity and to allow wise use of their resources by human beings, some kind of overall agreement is needed between the various owners, occupiers and interested parties. The management planning process provides this overall agreement.

When developing management planning, which will be applied to all wetlands and not just to reserves, the following considerations should be taken into account:

  • Management planning is a way of thinking which involves recording, evaluating and planning. It is a process subject to constant review and revision. Management plans should, therefore, be regarded as flexible, dymnamic documents.
  • It is essential to emphasize that the process described below is very simple. It involves three basic actions - describing, defining objectives, and taking any necessary action. Preparation of an elaborate plan must never be an excuse for inaction or delay. It will be useful to produce a very brief executive summary for decision-makers in order to allow decisions of principle and funding to be taken rapidly.
  • Review of the plan may lead to revision of the site description and objectives (particularly the operational objectives). This is illustrated in the diagram appended to the guidelines.
  • The management plan itself should be a technical, not a legal document, though it may be appropriate for the principle of a management plan to be supported by legislation.
  • An authority should be appointed to implement the management planning process; this may be particularly relevant in a larger site, where there is a need to take account of all interests, uses and pressures on the wetland.

Although conditions vary at individual wetlands, these guidelines may be applied worldwide. It is emphasized that the guidelines are far from constituting the management plan, which will be a much more detailed document. The Ramsar Bureau would welcome comments from Contracting Parties on the guidelines with a view to producing a more detailed handbook to accompany the guidelines.

(ii) Format

The format of the plan, reflected in these guidelines, should comprise a Preamble, followed by three major sections:

  • Description
  • Evaluation and objectives (i.e., what to do)
  • Action plan/prescriptions (i.e., how to do it)

(iii) Drafting and approval

Technical staff will participate in the drafting of all three sections of the plan. Sources, bibliographical references and the authorship of individual parts should always be indicated. Policy makers will normally review the first two sections in consultation with technical staff, before approving finance and implementation of section three.


The Preamble is a concise policy statement which reflects in broad terms the policies of supra-national, national or local authorities, or other organizations (e.g., non-governmental conservation bodies or private owners) concerned with the production and implementation of the management plan. The Preamble should also recall the three broad Ramsar obligations: maintaining the ecological character of listed sites; making wise use of all wetlands; and establishing nature reserves at wetlands, whether or not they are included in the Ramsar List.

Part 1: Description

This is a basic description of the site, using available information and identifying any gaps. Where appropriate, any gaps will be filled, and the description will be regularly reviewed and updated. It will form a baseline for monitoring programmes, which should identify any subsequent changes at the site. The headings of the "Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands" provide a format for the description, though in most cases there will be a need for more detailed data. If the plan is to be published, sensitive data on rare species should remain confidential.

Part 2: Evaluation and Objectives -- What to do

2.1 Evaluation

Evaluation means the assessment of the major features of the site, and is applied to the foregoing description. (It should not be confused with the Ramsar criteria used to identify wetlands for potential designation on the Ramsar List). The evaluation process may use the following headings (which are not listed in any order of priority and which will vary in relevance from site to site); they may be used individually or as a whole.

  • Size and position in ecological unit: the best possibilities for planning exist where the site constitutes a complete ecological unit, preferably a whole catchment. Smaller sites must take account of factors in the catchment beyond their own strict limits.
  • Biological diversity: is related to wetland type and also, in many cases, to size. Sites with great natural diversity are most highly valued, but some wetlands (e.g., some peat bogs) have low diversity even in a natural state.
  • Naturalness: from a conservation point of view, this will be the most important feature in evaluation, even though modified and artificial sites may have conservation value.
  • Rarity: conservation sites are often selected on the basis of the rare species, communities, habitats, landforms or landscape features they contain. The degree of rarity and the reasons for this rarity need to be considered.
  • Fragility: fragility may be natural (fire, flood, drought, storms) or man-induced. Both aspects should be considered.
  • Typicalness: consideration should be given not only to rare or exceptional features, but to the best examples of a particular habitat that may be typical or common in a region.
  • Recorded history, including archaeological or paleoenvironmental values, e.g., pollen, seeds: important for an understanding of past management (whether for human use or conservation), which can guide future action.
  • Potential for improvement: sites of high quality have little potential for improvement. Evaluation must consider whether the potential value of lower quality sites justifies the use of scarce resources.
  • Esthetic, cultural and religious value: will include landscape values, but also cultural or religious significance.
  • Social and economic value: will include values such as sediment and erosion control; maintenance of water quality and abatement of pollution; maintenance of surface and underground water supply; support for fisheries, grazing, forestry and agriculture; contribution to climatic stability.
  • Education and Public Awareness: covers potential for environmental education for students, decision-makers and the general public.
  • Recreation: important to ensure that recreational use is compatible with conservation objectives.
  • Research/study: important for development of a basis for taking decisions on management, but fragility of site and vulnerability to researchers must be taken into account.

2.2 Long-term management objectives

These are a concise expression of intent, derived from the evaluation process and unaffected by other considerations. They may be stated in general terms or can be more specific. They will normally refer to the broad policies outlined in the preamble.

2.3 Factors influencing achievement of long-term management objectives

Once the long-term objectives have been decided, all significant factors which may influence or hinder their achievement should be identified. These factors fall into the following categories:

    2.3.1 Internal natural factors: includes natural succession in vegetation, variations in water level caused by precipitation.

    2.3.2. Internal human-induced factors: includes spread of invasive alien species, localized erosion, disturbance, pollution.

    2.3.3. External natural factors: includes factors arising outside the wetland such as climate change, variations in currents or sea level.

    2.3.4. External human-induced factors: includes diversion of water supply, increased sedimentation caused by upstream erosion, pollution.

    2.3.5. Factors arising from legislation or tradition: includes legal and traditional rights and obligations placed on the managers of the site. Legal obligations could arise from international, national or local legislation, with national and local laws likely to be the more important; rural planning may also be an important factor; traditional rights could include grazing, hunting, fishing, logging or religious customs.

    2.3.6. Physical considerations: includes physical factors such as inaccessibility which may affect the achievement of long-term objectives.

    2.3.7. Available resources: includes finance for execution of management tasks and available personpower.

    2.3.8. Summary of factors influencing achievement of long-term objectives: a summary of the preceding headings which leads logically to the identification of operational objectives.

2.4 Identification of operational objectives

This part of the process considers the influence of the factors identified under 2.3 on the achievement of long-term objectives, and leads to the formulation of operational (or obtainable) objectives. These may differ quite considerably from the long-term objectives, but should nevertheless point the way towards them (* see Note on limits of acceptable change).

* Limits of acceptable change. The concept of "limits of acceptable change" is a useful tool, widely used to identify and set limits within which change may be tolerated. It may be applied to the long-term or operational objectives. (Examples for wetlands might be maximum or minimum water levels, or maximum or minimum extent of vegetation). Once these limits are exceeded there will be a need for immediate remedial action. The limits of acceptable change must take account of sustainable yield of natural products, so that harvest rates or fish catches may be determined. Monitoring is implicit and of the greatest importance.

Part 3 : Action Plan/Prescriptions -- How to do it

3.1 Work plan

The operational objectives will lead to the formulation of a work plan. For complex sites, where ownership and activities are diverse, an overall "umbrella" plan for the management of natural resource use and the maintenance of biodiversity should be established in collaboration with all users and interested parties. Within this overall plan, zoning may be appropriate to regulate actions in different parts of the area; each zone may have its own subsidiary plan.

    3.1.1 Management options: Management options may be summarized under the following categories (which are not in order of priority):

    • Habitat management (including aspects such as hydrology and landscape). Options: non-intervention (which still implies monitoring); limited intervention; active management.
    • Species management. Options: non-intervention; control and reduction or eradication; encouragement and increase; re-introduction; introduction (to be used with the greatest care).
    • Usage. Options: no usage; traditional usage; usage by human inhabitants which takes account of wise use.
    • Access. Options: closed; restricted access; partially open access; open access.
    • Education, interpretation and communication. Options: no facilities; low key publicity; active publicity; special promotion, including action for decision-makers.
    • Research. Options: no facilities; specialized facilities; controlled facilities; open facilities.

3.2 Projects

The general areas of work ("prescriptions") required to achieve the operational objectives are broken down into clearly defined individual units of work called "projects". Each project description will contain, or provide reference to, sufficient information to enable the individuals responsible for the project to complete the work. This will include details of: the staff responsible for the work, when it should be done, how long it should take and how much it will cost. Each project is also allocated a priority and year (or years) when it will be active. Projects are divided under three main headings: records, management and administration.

    3.2.1 Records: Records may be subdivided into the following subheadings: archives; physical; flora; fauna; and human activities. Records are vital for the all-important activity of monitoring developments.

    3.2.2 Management: Management activities may be subdivided into the following sub-headings: management of habitat; management of species; management of inhabitants; and management of infrastructure (roads etc.).

    3.2.3 Administration: Each project will include an entry on the arrangements for its implementation.

3.3 Work programmes

Collectively, project descriptions are used as the basis for the preparation of a wide range of work programmes. These include: annual work programmes, work programmes for individual staff members and financial programmes.

3.4 & 3.5 Reviews

Finally, reviews are made under the same project headings, detailing the work which has been completed and the results of monitoring and surveys. This information provides the basis for short term, usually annual, and longer term or major reviews. The purpose of the short term review is simply to confirm that a site is being managed in accordance with the requirements of the plan. The major reviews are applied in order to ensure that the operational objectives are being achieved and that they continue to be relevant. The period between major reviews will depend on a range of factors, notably the dynamics and vulnerability of a site. It will rarely be less than one year and should not exceed 10 years.


Management Plan

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