Ramsar Study Tour to Swiss Ramsar sites, May 2002
Ramsar Bureau Study Tour
Saturday, 11 May 2002
Visit to the Ramsar Sites at Lake Neuchâtel
We will be visiting the wetlands along the southern shore of lake Neuchâtel, starting in the SW corner in the morning, moving towards the NE end of the lake during the day. In the 1870s, the water levels of lakes Bienne, Neuchâtel and Morat were lowered by 2.7m and the three lakes connected by canals. The plain between the lakes was drained and turned into the largest vegetable-growing area of Switzerland. Along the southern shore of lake Neuchâtel, the lowering of the water level created an almost continuous belt of fenland reaching from Yverdon-les-Bains (SW) to the Thielle canal (NE), bordered in part by the sandstone cliffs that formed the original boundary of the lake.
The NE part was designated as a Ramsar Site in 1976 (Baie du Fanel et Chablais de Cudrefin) when Switzerland joined the Convention, the adjacent sections (Rive sud du lac de Neuchâtel) were added to the List in 1990 (during COP4 at Montreux). Only areas with natural wetland habitats were included in the Ramsar Site, thus the site is subdivided into different sections (i.e. Nature Reserves). The area is called "Grande Cariçaie" after the tall sedges (Carex) dominating the vegetation. Reedbeds, broken up by ponds, are succeeded landwards by sedges, wet meadows and alluvial forests. These diverse habitats are home to many plant and animal populations threatened in Switzerland.
Since 1991, three sections of the shore have become waterbird reserves under federal legislation. Hunting is prohibited and public access restricted. Despite the efforts to protect the wetlands, problems remain. Erosion of the lakeshore results in an annual loss of 1-2ha marshland. In 1972, the lake water level was lowered even further, preventing regular flooding of large areas and thus promoting the advancing of forest vegetation. Pressure from the public poses many problems. Tourist infrastructure and the attractiveness of the lake for leisure and recreation purposes are taking their toll of the land and lead to disturbance of wildlife.
A scientific management team is carrying out detailed monitoring studies and management interventions. In the 1970s, Pro Natura opened its environmental education centre in the villa Champ-Pittet www.pronatura.ch/champ-pittet/ nowadays complemented by a gourmet restaurant, famous for its "natural" cuisine. Next to Champ-Pittet nature centre, the Grande Cariçaie management team has its offices and laboratory www.grande-caricaie.ch. A year ago, BirdLife Switzerland opened its visitors' centre La Sauge at the other end of the lake www.birdlife.ch/lasauge near the birdwatching hotspot Fanel Nature Reserve, by creating new wetlands and an education trail on former farmland, next to the historic toll house at the Broye canal crossing, marking the border between the cantons of Vaud, Fribourg, Neuchâtel and Berne (and the French and German-speaking parts of Switzerland). The education centre is complemented by an organic farm (using Scottish Highland cattle for vegetation management), a hotel, and a restaurant in the historic building.
8h30 Departure with private cars from the Ramsar Bureau
(Drivers will get detailed instructions how to reach Champ-Pittet.)
10h00-12h00 Rendez-vous at Champ-Pittet visitors' centre for a guided tour of the nature reserve Réserve de Cheyres by Christophe Le Nédic, member of the scientific management team of the Ramsar Site (Groupe d'étude et de gestion de la Grande Cariçaie). If you have rubber boots, take them with you, you will be able to progress more towards the interesting parts of the wetland.
12h30-14h00 Lunch (or individual pick-nick) in the café-restaurant du Port at Estavayer-le-Lac
14h00-15h00 Drive northwards along the shore with a stop on the watch-out place on top of the sandstone cliffs overlooking the reedbeds
15h00-16h00 Guided visit of La Sauge visitors' centre by Werner Müller, director of BirdLife Switzerland
16h00-18h00 Optional birdwatching excursion along the Broye canal to the Fanel nature reserve.
Let's Go!! Aauuchhh! It's raining!
Christophe Le Nédic, of the scientific management team of the Ramsar site (Groupe d'étude et de gestion de la Grande Cariçaie), perched upon a lookout point on the cliffs 100m above the wetlands, explains to Ramsar staff and friends the management techniques in use in the Ramsar site and associated lakeshore wetlands.
Ramsar Bureau staff, accompanied by collaborators from IUCN, WWF International, the World Resources Institute, amongst other worthy institutions, gain inside knowledge of management techniques at Ramsar sites in Switzerland.
Tour leader Dr Salathé, with BirdLife Switzerland director Werner Müller behind, explains to Valerie Higgins, Jacqueline Shahanian of IUCN and her friend, and Annette Keller about keeping vegetation down so the birds will come back.
Christophe Le Nédic explains how the 'orrible great machine is brought in to wreak vegetational devastation, chopping and uprooting things which, however, come right back in a year or two.
In a jeans competition, Dr Salathé would lose, but for organizing Ramsar study tours he always wins.
Werner Müller, head of the BirdLife International affiliate in Switzerland, explains to quizzical Ramsar staff and friends the pressures upon wetlands along the northeastern shores of Lac Neuchâtel.
Here is the scene from that vantage.
There is no law to the effect that you have to continue, but we proceed now to the conservation centre of La Sauge by the Fanel Ramsar site on Lac de Neuchâtel, and if you don't want to follow along, fine, that's your privilege, but it might gnaw at you to the end of your days that you may have missed out on something that might have made them meaningful.
Photos by Sandra Hails and Tobias Salathé.