Ramsar "Hot Topics" no. 2: Buffer Zones

15/07/1998

In our daily business we are confronted regularly by wetlands people asking our views on the advisability or otherwise of activities on, or in association with, wetlands. The idea of the "Hot Topics" part of the Ramsar Wise Use Centre is that we will identify a subject every three to four months which we think needs to have some science done to allow fundamental questions to be answered. We suspect that in many cases the science has already been done and, if so, we want to hear about it and make it known to others. The "Hot Topics" section will therefore be about profiling issues and seeking out information which will help us all to make informed decisions.

Hot Topic #2: Buffer Zones

Today we are launching our second "hot topic" - buffer zones. Our interest is in locating expert information based on research or experience which can help others to design and manage buffer zones around wetlands and waterways.

With increasing pressure on wetlands and river systems, the inclusion of buffer zones is increasingly being recommended as a management tool. One study we are aware of ("Guidelines for the design of effective buffers for the Wetlands of the Swan Coastal Plain") notes that designing a buffer zone depends primarily on the "threats" to the site, the landscape (and especially the soil type in that setting) and what the management goals for the site are. Is this the experience of others as well?

buffer.jpg (13426 bytes)A "filter strip" buffer zone (Photo: US Dept. of Agriculture)

We should not assume, though, that buffer zones are only for inland wetland ecosystems. In some cases managers have included buffer zones for coastal wetlands (corals, sea grasses for example) and through a zoning approach restricted access to highly sensitive areas. So zoning within management planning is becoming more common and the Ramsar Bureau would like to locate the best information we can on this topic.

Other elements of the buffer zone issue are their use in integrated river basin management and in urban settings. The trend in river basin management is to use buffer zones for a variety of purposes - such as protection of the riparian zone from human or livestock damage, or to limit disturbance of colony breeding birds. In urban settings, buffer zones are now being employed to retain natural areas around wetlands so that the impacts of human occupation nearby are reduced. Buffer zones can also be a water quality management tool, with natural areas serving as filters of urban run-off. The use of buffer zones in association with golf courses is important where high nutrient run-off from the fertilised lawns can threaten nearby wetlands and rivers.

All of these, and more, are reasons why we want to know more about buffer zones. They are a key management tool and if Ramsar Contracting Parties are to apply Wise Use at all wetlands (Article 3.1), then this information needs to assembled and made available. We hope you will be able to help us to do that.

Please send any information you may have - your own experience, references (preferably but not necessarily with a copy of the referenced studies as well), contacts with knowledgeable experts - to Robin Reilly, Volunteer Researcher in the Bureau (ramsar@ramsar.org).

-- Bill Phillips, Deputy Secretary General

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