Wetlands and cultural heritage conservation

27/03/2001

Launch of The Heritage Management of Wetlands in Europe

EAC General Assembly, Strasbourg, 23 March 2001

Statement by Dr Nick Davidson
Deputy Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)

eac-book.jpg (22593 bytes)It is a very great pleasure to receive, on behalf of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, this copy of the EAC’s important and impressive volume on The Heritage Management of Wetlands. For the Convention, this publication could not be more timely as a tool for raising awareness of the important links between the conservation of biodiversity and archaeology and cultural heritage of wetlands – rightly recognised by both our organisations as the primary focus to achieve our goals.

Since 1971 the Ramsar Convention – the oldest of the global environmental conventions, and the only one to focus on a particular ecosystem – has been striving to help its 123 Contracting Parties (national governments) to achieve their commitments for the wise use (i.e. sustainable utilisation) of all their wetlands through many actions including the designation so far of 1060 Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites) covering over 80 million hectares of inland, coastal and nearshore marine wetland ecosystems, both natural and human-made. Parties also commit to working together on a range of international cooperative activities.

The Ramsar Convention owes its origins in the 1960s to increasing recognition and concern of the urgent need to safeguard wetland habitats and the species, notably waterbirds, that depend upon them. But despite increasing awareness worldwide of the vital values and functions of wetlands, this challenge remains very great and likely to become even greater in many parts of the world in the face of accelerating desertification and increasing demand for shared water resources.

So joining forces to tackle this wetland challenge makes sound sense, and there is much common ground (or more accurately, water) in the biodiversity and heritage management of wetlands. Put at its simplest, we all need our wetlands to stay wet, so maintaining the hydrological integrity of wetlands is critical to our common objectives. Decision-makers and managers of the natural and of the cultural features of wetlands are, however, not always as fully aware as they could be of the benefits of working together to strengthen the safeguarding of this heritage.

The Ramsar Convention has long recognised the vital importance of people and their wetland heritage in all its forms as essential for achieving the sustainable management of wetlands. Indeed the theme of its most recent Conference of Parties (COP7 in Costa Rica in 1999) was "People and wetlands: the vital link", and this conference, amongst many other actions, adopted guidelines for incorporating local communities and local communities in the participatory management of wetlands, in recognition of the importance of local knowledge and culture in this process.

Furthermore, the importance of people and the cultural significance of wetlands will receive even higher profile at our next COP, in Valencia, Spain in November 2002, which has the theme of "Wetlands: water, life and culture". This will include a major technical session on "the cultural aspects of wetlands as a tool for their conservation and sustainable use", which will include discussion of guidelines for incorporating cultural heritage in the assessment, valuation and management of wetlands.

So when your President contacted the Ramsar Bureau (the Convention’s Secretariat) last year to explore opportunities for collaboration so as to better achieve your goal of safeguarding cultural heritage, it could not have been more important and timely.

Your initiative to focus on wetlands, as the most important ecosystem for the maintenance of cultural heritage, and to publish this fine volume today, is a tremendous first step. It will do much to help raise awareness of the importance of managing wetlands for their cultural and archaeological richness linked with their natural values and functions – and to demonstrate to wetland managers how this can be best achieved on the ground.

But of course this is just the start. As set out in the EAC Strategy and Statement of Intent you have adopted this morning there are many ways EAC can contribute to, and benefit from, the Ramsar process. We will jointly develop delivery of this through a Memorandum of Cooperation, and we would urge you to play a strong and active role in the preparation and presentation of cultural issues at our 2002 Conference in Spain.

As outlined in the EAC Strategy, this could include:

  • information sheets on the cultural heritage of wetlands and their management;
  • case studies on management of cultural wetlands;
  • guidelines on cultural wetlands management; and
  • special EAC events during the Conference.

We are also greatly interested in your idea of developing a travelling exhibition on culture and wetlands. Taking this to Ramsar’s next Conference in Spain would be a powerful way of raising awareness amongst our extended Ramsar family who will be participating.

For its part, the Ramsar Bureau has already been raising awareness of the cultural features of wetlands and your EAC work through our Web-site and listserve discussion groups. We will be putting up a report of your discussions and the launch here today as a major news feature early next week. If you have not done so already I encourage you to visit the Web-site (www.ramsar.org) – there is also a wealth of other material to be found there on wetland wise use and management.

At the national and local scale I would also urge you to join in the global celebrations of the signing of the Convention on the 2nd February each year – World Wetlands Day. Next year World Wetlands Day also will focus on culture and wetlands – a powerful opportunity for raising awareness of the cultural heritage of wetlands in your countries.

So thank you very much, Mr. President, for this copy of your splendid book. There is much in here directly about Ramsar, and all of it highly relevant of Ramsar’s delivery of sustainable management of wetlands. Now my next challenge and priority is to look inside to see what challenges you have set Ramsar, and what you say about us.

Your challenge of course is to make the next volume in the series at least as excellent as this first one.

Thank you.

Nick Davidson
Deputy Secretary General
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

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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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