4th European regional meeting on the Ramsar Convention, Bled, Slovenia, 13-18 October 2001


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4th European Regional Meeting on the Ramsar Convention, Bled, Slovenia, 13-18 October 2001

A preliminary overview of

National Wetland Policies in Europe

Informal Working Document

Based on a report compiled in September 2000 by Petra Holtrup (Ramsar Bureau Intern)


Setting the scene for wetland policy

Wetlands have been identified as one of the key life support systems on this planet in concert with agricultural lands and forests (cf. Ramsar Handbook 2, p.5). This has been a key theme in the evolving global support and political commitment for sustainable development and environmental conservation as articulated in the Ramsar Convention’s Strategic Plan 1997 - 2002, the World Conservation Strategy "Caring for the Earth", the report of the Brundtland Commission, and Agenda 21. The role of wetlands has emerged as a key element in the delivery of inland freshwater and coastal ecosystem conservation through the Convention on Biological Diversity. The importance of our wetlands goes beyond their status as the habitat of many endangered plant and animal species. They are a vital element of national and global ecosystems and economies.

The seriousness of the continuing loss of wetlands demands a new approach to wetland management. Wetlands are exposed to major threats: conversion from natural areas into agricultural land, urban settlements, industry, and recreation areas. Wetlands are degraded by land-use practices that destroy vegetation, increase nutrient and toxic substances loading, sedimentation, and water turbidity and alter flow regimes. Dredging, intensive aquaculture, logging and acid rain also affect the ecological character of wetlands. The disruption of wetland functions has a high cost - economically, socially and ecologically. Wetland degradation can destroy critical gene pools required for medical and agricultural purposes. It can affect their potential for water quality improvement and prevent their use for educational and recreational purposes. Wetland conservation is vital to achieve the objectives of biodiversity conservation as prescribed by international treaties and related obligations. To meet these aims, a comprehensive national and international policy approach is essential.

Within the text of the Ramsar Convention, adopted in 1971, Article 3.1 establishes that "the Contracting Parties shall formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List [of Wetlands of International Importance] and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in their territory."

Conditions for effective wetland policies

Effective international environmental policy depends on both, national activities undertaken and policies promoted by individual states at the international arena, and on the successful implementation of international agreements at national level.

Contracting Parties ideally contribute to the development and implementation of international wetland policies promoted by the Ramsar Convention in order to support their own national interests and to prevent external negative influences affecting their own country.

The Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002 formulates major targets and addresses key issues for the implementation of effective national wetland policies, notably under General Objective 2 "To achieve the wise use of wetlands by implementing and further developing the Ramsar Wise Use Guidelines" (cf. Ramsar Handbook 1). Action 2.1.2 suggests to "Promote much greater efforts to develop national wetland policies, either separately or as a clearly identifiable component of other national conservation planning initiatives, such as National Environment Action Plans, National Biodiversity Strategies, or National Conservation Strategies".

Recent experiences have shown that it is important to develop a National Wetland Policy taking into account existing policies on water protection, agriculture, transport, housing, recreation, etc. By doing so, the National Wetland Policy needs to bring together actors at various administrative levels (national, regional and local) with other stakeholders, user and interest groups, including NGOs and individual experts.

Special emphasis should be put on economic pressures and short-term growth interests that can easily counteract the effective implementation of environmental policies. Economic values of wetlands, and their function for the protection of clean water resources have to be taken into account when developing a National Wetland Action Plan, that should ideally be coordinated by a National Wetland (or Ramsar) Committee.

The European region

The Ramsar Convention has now in place a number of Memoranda of Understanding and Cooperation with global and regional conventions and is developing further such agreements. Resolution VII.4 called upon Contracting Parties to strengthen their mechanisms and policy instruments to enhance the coordinated implementation of agreements with global and regional conventions through the development of joint work plans or identifying shared actions (e.g. the joint Ramsar-CBD River Basin Initiative). This needs to be complemented by well-adjusted national decision-making processes that incorporate the different needs of an effective environmental policy at national scale.

In the European context, more structured relations with the instances of the European Union are desirable, notably concerning the largely overlapping areas of interest of the new Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and the Ramsar Convention. This concerns not only the 15 European Union Member States, but a dozen or so Central European countries engaged in the process of accession to the EU that are also concerned by the major EU instruments of relevance for wetland conservation and wise use (cf. also the Communication by the Commission on wise use and conservation of wetlands, COM (95) 189).

A number of regional agreements are of particular importance in the European context. The Framework Convention on the Protection of Transboundary Waters [www.unicc.org/unece/env/conv/water.htm] of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) plays a major role for water and wetland protection in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe. There are several other agreements on the protection of transboundary rivers in Europe. One of the oldest is the Rhine Convention which served as a model for several other river conventions, like those on the Danube, Elbe, Odra, or Bug [Note: see www.iksr.org for the Rhine Convention, www.ikse.de for the Elbe Convention, with important further links. Holtrup (1999) The protection of transboundary rivers in Europe - about the effectiveness of international environmental regimes (in German), provides an analysis about transboundary water protection in Western, Central and Eastern Europe.] A new Rhine Convention was recently signed, completed by an Action Programme that covers the entire river basin, including aspects of nature and wetland protection and sustainable development. A major target of the new Action Programme for the Rhine is to establish continuous nature protection areas - a so-called "green chain" - along the river from its source to the delta. Similar programmes are in progress for the Elbe, Odra and other rivers.

Several agreements on regional seas cover increasingly wetland conservation and wise use in the context of integrated coastal zone or catchment planning procedures. Some fall under the UNEP Regional Seas Programme, such as the Barcelona Convention (renewed in 1995) and its Mediterranean Action Plan. Others are outside of this programme, such as the Helsinki Convention with the "Helcom" Commission [www.helcom.fi], the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat, or the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) [www.ospar.org].

Various NGOs work at international scale in areas of overlapping interest, such as the international organisation partners of the Ramsar Convention BirdLife International, IUCN, WWF, and Wetlands International and several, more regionally focused organisations in Europe, such as BUND, Rivernet, Stiftung Europäisches Naturerbe, Global Nature Fund, Coalition Clean Baltic and others.


Starting in 1997, as part of an internship project (initiated by Maryse Mahy, and followed up by Anett Zellei), the Ramsar Bureau began to collect data concerning National Wetland Policies of Contracting Parties in the European region. The project concentrated on the implementation of Action 2.1.2 of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002. It resulted in a number of national reports and some attempts to edit a concise analysis. The main focus of this exercise was to produce an overview on 1) the development and implementation status of wetland policies in each Contracting Party, 2) the identification of regional trends, and 3) the provision of additional recommendations for enhanced implementation of these obligations of the Ramsar Convention.

This preliminary overview concentrates on the analysis of specific reports submitted by most European Contracting Parties upon request by the Ramsar Bureau, and additionally on information provided in the National Reports prepared for COP7. The information reflects therefore more or less the situation in late 1998, as in most cases no other information was provided to the Ramsar Bureau since. However, we tried to incorporate more recent information available at the time of analysis (in summer 2000) wherever possible.

The overview covers four central topics, developed in more detail in Ramsar Handbook 2, based on Resolution VII.6, providing guidelines for "Developing and implementing National Wetland Policies".

General questions for the preliminary analysis

  1. Does the Contracting Party have a National Wetland Policy in place providing a comprehensive statement of the Government’s intention to implement the provisions of the Ramsar Convention?
  2. Has the Contracting Party taken its obligations under the Ramsar Convention into consideration when preparing related policy instruments, such as National Biodiversity Strategies, National Environmental Action Plans, River Basin Management Plans, or similar instruments?
  3. Has a National Ramsar Committee been established in the Contracting Party to promote coordinating mechanisms and to increase cooperation and synergy between different agencies and institutions? What is the structure of this National Ramsar Committee, who is involved, and how is the cooperation procedure structured?
  4. Do Contracting Parties without a National Ramsar Committee have other bodies that serve the same purpose?

The results of the preliminary analysis are presented in the attached tables with short comments on a country-by-country basis. Additional information, extracted directly from the National Reports to COP7 (available on the Ramsar Convention website) is marked with (M).

As the analysis is based on information that may now be partially out-of-date, the Ramsar Bureau would appreciate receiving necessary amend-ments, corrections or updates.

To this end, this informal report is distributed as a working document, together with the invitation for the European meeting on the Ramsar Convention, called and hosted by Slovenia in October 2001, with the support of the Ramsar Bureau.

Ramsar Bureau/TS/25 April 2001

File 2: Analyses by country

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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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