Ramsar Bulletin Board, 29 September 1996

Ramsar's 94th Contracting Party. UNESCO has informed the Bureau that, as of 16 September 1996, Gambia has become the 94th Contracting Party to the Convention -- according to the terms of the treaty, membership will therefore come into force for Gambia on 16 January 1997. Gambia is a small country situated in Western Africa, enveloped by Senegal on the landward side and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The new Party has initially designated the Baobolon Wetland Reserve (20,000 hectares), on the Gambia River, as its first site; it consists of tidal estuary, mangroves, salt marshes and tidal flats, with occasionally flooded savannah woodlands adjacent to the salt marshes. For further information, contact the Bureau's Technical Officer for Africa, Tom Kabii.

Austrian National Ramsar Committee. Bureau staff helped out in Hartberg in the Steiermark province of Austria, where on 20-21 June the Austrian National Ramsar Committee brought together federal and provincial authorities and representatives of several NGOs, including WWF and the Distelverein. One important agenda item concerned the continuing development of an Austrian National Wetland Policy, which it is hoped will win approval from as many as seven or eight of the nine provinces. Tom Kabii, the Bureau's Technical Officer for Africa, was invited to present a paper on exchanges between African and Austrian Ramsar sites, in response to considerable interest among province authorities for developing twinning arrangements for exchange of personnel, expertise, and funding support with African sites.

Officials noted that the inclusion of March-Auen in the Montreux Record has been extremely helpful for a project carried out by the Distelverein for the implementation of the Wise Use concept by use of traditional farming methods by private owners, which follows up on recommendations made in a Ramsar Monitoring Procedure to the site in 1991; the current project is being financed by the EU LIFE programme. Concern was expressed for the welfare of Stauseen am Oberen Inn, a transborder site with Germany, because of disturbances from unregulated fishing activities, and the Rhine Delta on Lake Constance, shared with Germany and Switzerland, because of continuing drops in the water table from drainage and extraction of water for recreational purposes. There was considerable discussion of two potential new Ramsar sites, Horfeld, a vegetated alpine lake in Karnten and Steiermark provinces, and the River Lafnitz valley, one of the country's last unregulated rivers. For further information, contact Mike Smart, the Bureau's Senior Policy Advisor (you can address him in German if you wish, as well as in English, French, and Spanish, and what not else).

Ramsar Site of the Month -- Ringkobing Fjord. Until drainage in the 1960s, Ringkobing Fjord on the coast of West Jutland, a shallow brackish lagoon separated from the North Sea by a narrow sand-barrier, includes Denmark's biggest river delta and was one of the most important habitats for migrating and breeding waterbirds in that part of the world. By 1969, the once meandering and free-flowing river Skjern had been tamed and canalized between retaining dikes, and pumping plants drained the previous grassland and marshes to form about 4,000 hectares of new agricultural land. Serious problems soon became apparent, as agricultural pollution resulted in a serious depletion of submerged plants, bottom fauna, birds, and fish in both the river and the fjord. The site, designated for the Ramsar List in 1977, was placed on the Montreux Record, and in 1987 the Danish Parliament began taking steps towards restoration of the system's self-sustaining processes (see Ramsar Newsletter, no. 17, January 1994).

On 1-3 September 1996, Tim Jones, the Bureau's Technical Officer for Europe, visited the site at the Government's invitation to assess the progress of the 80 million Swiss franc project, which aims to restore the delta's natural role of "filtering out" dissolved chemicals from agricultural fertilizers, largely by restoring the meanders of the river and allowing periodic flooding of riparian areas. Palle Uhd Jepsen, the Convention's focal point in the National Forest and Nature Agency, Denmark's administrative authority for implementation of the Convention, projects a timetable which should lead to Ringkobing's removal from the Montreux Record before the Costa Rica Conference of the Parties in 1999.

Kenya. Anderson Koyo reports that Kenya is on track in the preparation of a National Wetland Policy. Regional workshops have been held for administrators and scientists in several key towns, and others are in preparation for collaboration with the general public. Policy formulation is being carried out under the guidance of an interministerial committee which was set up under the chairmanship of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the administrative authority charged with implementation of the Convention in Kenya, with funding from the Government of the Netherlands, and it is hoped that a policy will be in place some time next year. For further information, contact Tom Kabii, the Bureau's Technical Officer for Africa.

Slovenia's New National Ramsar Committee. Slovenia has become the latest country to establish a National Ramsar Committee to coordinate and promote implementation of the Convention. The Committee has five permanent members, but will network with scientists, wetland managers, landowners and NGOs. Amongst other tasks, the new committee will monitor the conservation status of important Slovenian wetlands, organize the preparation of site management plans, and prepare proposals for new Ramsar designations. For information, contact Robert Boljesic at the State Authority for Nature Conservation, Ministry for Environment and Regional Planning, Vojkova 1b, SL-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia (fax +386 61 178 46 11).

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