Ramsar trip to Armenia, September 2000

13/10/2000

Armenia

Mission Report

Armenia - 4-9 September 2000

by Tobias Salathé - Regional Coordinator for Europe - Ramsar Bureau


Objectives

1. To discuss current issues regarding the two Armenian Ramsar Sites, lakes Arpi and Sevan, with the Ministry of Nature Protection. If possible, also to visit the sites, to obtain a first-hand impression of their current status and management.

2. To discuss progress with the current Ramsar SGF 1999 project on the "Ecological and economical valuation of Armenian wetlands as a step towards the elaboration of an National Wetlands Policy"; and to discuss progress with the Ramsar project 83/99 "Implementation of the Ramsar Strategic Plan in the Management of Sevan National Park", funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation.

3. To discuss with the Armenian focal points for STRP and CEPA current Ramsar matters, such as the new National Report Format and Planning Tool, current issues of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel, the Outreach Programme and the forthcoming meeting of the Standing Committee.

4. To discuss possible Armenian activities for the forthcoming World Wetlands Day 2001, being the 30th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention

5. To discuss any other matter of relevance, such as the Joint Work Plan between Ramsar and the Biodiversity Convention, or specific wetland site-related issues in Armenia.

Results

Armenian Ramsar Sites

6. I was able to visit both Armenian Ramsar Sites in excellent company of national experts (cf. itinerary and people met) and to obtain a first-hand impression on their status and current management problems.

7. Lake Arpi reservoir: - A map showing clearly the Ramsar Site boundaries should urgently be provided to the Ramsar Bureau. Due to several pressures on the ecosystem (water abstraction, sewage inflow, disturbance of breeding birds, over-exploitation of natural resources, invasive species) the elaboration of a management plan would be highly desirable. It was proposed to include the nearby lake Ardenis also in the Ramsar Site, given its important value for biodiversity.

8. Lake Sevan National Park: - We visited all sites bordering lake Sevan that are mentioned in the final report of the SGF 1997 project "Inventory of the Armenian Ramsar Sites in search of ways for restoration of the lost and rehabilitation of degraded wetlands, especially as waterfowl habitat". It would indeed be highly desirable if the proposed restoration project for lake Lichk could be undertaken as a joint activity with the Stichting Flevoland (in the Netherlands), probably under a site twinning agreement with Eurosite (an official partner of the Ramsar Bureau). As well, the Ramsar Bureau attaches great potential importance to the restoration project for the former lake Gilly, profiting currently from a GEF Project Development Facility A grant.

9. The findings of former studies, financed by the World Bank, elaborating Action Programmes for lake Sevan, and at national level, plus others, should be taken into account when planning further actions for ecosystem rehabilitation and management. The Ramsar focal point at the Ministry of Nature Protection should follow progress with all activities outlined in the Lake Sevan Action Programme, as lake Sevan is also a Ramsar Site. Finally, the Ramsar Bureau should be sent urgently a map showing the Ramsar Site boundaries, comprising the entire lake catchment area, and the boundaries of strict nature reserves or any other protected areas included in the Ramsar Site.

Progress with the implementation of current Ramsar projects

10. SGF 1999 project: - Main activities, to be finalised by early 2001, include the elaboration of a national list of Armenian wetlands of international, national and local importance, an economical and ecological valuation of six wetland sites in different regions of Armenia, including the assessment of human impacts, plus CEPA activities at national scale. The final report of this project should prepare the basis for the elaboration of a National Wetlands Strategy, in accordance with the existing Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. In particular, relevant aspects of the Joint Work Plan between the Ramsar and Biodiversity Conventions should be taken into account. The Ramsar Bureau expects to receive an interim report by the end of November 2000 (letter of agreement of 22 December 1999).

11. Ramsar project 83/99: - An upcoming major event of this project is the second training course on wetland management for Sevan National Park staff, to be held from 9-21 October 2000, on the shores of lake Sevan, similar to the first training course in 1999 which profited from technical support by WATC/RIZA (Netherlands) and was financed through the Danone/Evian programme of the Ramsar Bureau. Other activities of this project include the economical and ecological valuation of wetland sites near lake Sevan of international, national and local importance, the assessment of environmental impacts and the elaboration of management plans for these sites.

12. Back in October 1998, the Ministry of Nature Protection submitted a proposal to carry out an inventory of Armenian non-Ramsar Sites. Subsequently, the French organisation OMPO declared its willingness to finance such a project. The Ramsar Bureau will enquire with OMPO about the outcome of this.

Priorities for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention

13. The results of the two running Ramsar projects in Armenia will greatly contribute to the current wetland conservation priorities in Armenia (cf. above). Following my visit in Yerevan, the Ramsar Bureau will send its "toolkit", i.e. the Ramsar Handbooks, to all people contacted in the Ministry of Nature Protection. However, it is suggested that key people in other Ministries (Agriculture, Transport, etc.) should get more involved in wetland conservation matters and receive the toolkit as well. The Ramsar Bureau looks forward to receive a list of relevant people and their functions.

14. The same holds for the National Ramsar Committee, that should ideally be widened to include representatives of other Ministries, wetland stakeholders and NGOs (cf. Ramsar Handbook 2 "Developing and implementing National Wetland Policies"). To date, the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan of Armenia, as well as the National Environmental Action Programme do hardly deal at all with wetlands. Given the paramount importance of integrated water management for the prosperity of the country; wetland management concerns should be fully taken into account when planning water resources management (cf. Ramsar Handbook 4 on "Integrating wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management").

15. Given the declaration of the Ramsar Contracting Parties in 1999, to double the number of Ramsar Sites by the year 2005 (Resolution VII.11, paragraph 15), the inclusion of additional Armenian sites in the List of Wetlands of International Importance would be very welcome. It is hoped that the current SGF 1999 project will contribute substantially to this goal. Increasingly, the cooperation with NGOs, especially also with international NGOs, to support preparatory activities, inventories, monitoring of species and sites, and to provide training and capacity building, should be actively sought (cf. below).

International support for Armenian bird conservation

16. A working group of the American University of Armenia (leader, M. Adamian), in cooperation with the University of California (U.S.A.) launched some years ago the "Birds of Armenia" programme that resulted in the publication of a high-quality field guide, an avifauna handbook, plus a huge amount of faunistical data. Given this encouraging situation, it was suggested that Dr Adamian should contact BirdLife International to ask for support to establish an Armenian NGO for bird study and conservation. Currently there exist about 20 or so local groups that could easily be federated, e.g. to embark on an update of insufficient information on Armenian Important Bird Areas, as recently published in "Important Bird Areas in Europe", vol.2. The Ramsar Bureau believes that such activities could create valuable synergies with Armenian’s main wetland conservation concerns (cf. below).

Remaining reedbeds in the Araks valley near Pokr Vedi

17. Different people at the Ministry of Nature Protection mentioned the planned "Irrigation II" project for the arable lands in the Araks valley downstream of Yerevan, forming the border with Turkey and Iran. While the lower lying areas (often close to the actual river bed and the remains of the formerly widespread alluvial forests), already drained as part of earlier agricultural improvement schemes, showed to have only low quality (waterlogged and salty) soils, they often constitute extremely important habitats for globally threatened and other bird species. During a rapid visit of the remaining reedbeds north of the pilgrims’ church Khor-Virab, next to the village Pokr Vedi, we observed dozens of pygmy cormorants, purple and squacco herons, little egrets, and others, and had discussions with local fishermen who stressed their interest in the wetland resources (cf. Ramsar Handbook 5 "Establishing and strengthening local communities’ and indigenous people’s participation in the management of wetlands").

18. In particular the area north of the Khor-Virab church hill, where currently about 600 ha reedbeds remain, seems to be completely waterlogged and extremely difficult to drain without regular pumping. Adjacent polders, drained some time ago, were abandoned since and only hardly used for grazing. Their sparse halophytic vegetation indicates clearly high salt concentrations in the soil. The Ramsar Bureau wishes therefore to make a plea that the Armenian authorities, together with the international donors, take into account the high values of these sites for biodiversity, coupled with the low potential for agricultural benefit (if any at all, taking into account the drainage costs) of the conversion of these particular areas into arable land.


Itinerary and People Met

4 September Drive with the Armenian delegation attending the workshop "Wetland Conservation in the Caucasus" in Kobuleti (Georgia)* through the coastal plain of Rioni river, up the Kura and Paravani river gorges to the Javakheti plateau next to the town of Ninotsminda, short stop at the proposed Ramsar Site of lake Khanchali, entering Armenia and drive to the small lake Ardenis, where we are guests of Shakro and Raya Ghazakyan, a local farmer family.

* Karén Jenderedjian (leading specialist, Biodiversity and Protected Areas, Ministry of Nature Protection, member Ramsar Convention Standing Committee), Martin Adamyan (senior ornithologist, American University of Armenia), Hosnik Kirakosyan (coordinator, Integrated Water Resources Management Plan) and Tigran Yeghyan (deputy coordinator, Integrated Water Resources Mgmt Plan)

5 September Field trip around lake Arpi reservoir Ramsar Site with K. Jenderedjian, M. Adamyan, Michael Voskanov (conservation expert, former director, Sevan National Park), Haykaz Roubenyan (ichthyologist, Academy of Sciences) and Mamikon Ghasabyan (ornithologist/mammalogist, American University of Armenia), stops, biological observations and sampling at several places, at contributory rivers and the artificial outflow of the reservoir (with an extremely low water level during our visit).

6 September Drive to Yerevan, meetings in the Ministry of Nature Protection with Artashes Ziroyan (deputy minister), Ms Nuneh Darbinyan (head, International Cooperation), Vladimir Narimanyan (head, Water Protection) and David Yavrouian (head, Special Protected Areas), dinner at the home of K. Jenderedjian (STRP focal point) with Susanna Hakobyan and N. Darbinyan (CEPA focal points).

7 September Drive to Sevan, discussion with Sirekan Petrosyan (director, Sevan National Park), field tour around lake Sevan Ramsar Site with stops at the Noradus fish ponds, lake Lichk nature reserve, Karchaghbyur fish breeding station, former lake Gilly wetland restoration site and the "poets’ house", where training courses on wetland conservation take place, with K. Jenderedjian, M. Voskanov and Ms Saskia de Lent (student from Wageningen NL, participating in the Integr. Water Res. Mgmt. Plan).

8 September Meetings in the Ministry of Nature Protection with Robert Saroyan (head, Departement Animal and Plant Protection and Specially Protected Natural Areas), Ashot Vardevanyan (head, Land-Use Planning), Sergey Shashikyan and Tatiana Daniehyan (focal points for CBD) and Jan Timmerman (team leader, Integrated Water Resources Management Plan, IWACO-JINJ-Norconsult consortium), meeting with ornithologists at the American University of Armenia, discussion with K. Jenderedjian, visit of the Armenian National History Museum and National Gallery, visit of the remaining reedbeds in the Araks valley next to the village Pokr Vedi, the pilgrims’ church Khor-Virab and the Turkish border.

9 September Return to Gland by air via London and Geneva.


I thank Karén Jenderedjian for this great hospitality - including in my thanks also his wife Susanna and their children Arpineh, Anna and Gevorgh – and thanking him also for having organised all the meetings and logistics of my stay in Armenia in such a perfect way.

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