Ramsar and the Baltic States

This paper was presented by Tim Jones, the Bureau's Regional Coordinator for Europe, at the 3rd International Conference on Environmental Conventions and the Baltic States, 24-25 April 1997, in Tallinn, Estonia, sponsored by the Stockholm Environment Institute's Tallinn office. It presents a succinct introduction to the Convention and its work aimed to the Baltic audience and summarizes the status of implementation of the Convention in the Baltic states at the present time. -- Web Editor.

The Convention on Wetlands - Background and Overview of Implementation in the Baltic States

1. The Convention on Wetlands: an introduction


The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was adopted in 1971 in the Iranian town of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and is often referred to as the 'Ramsar' Convention. It is the longest-established of the modern environmental conservation treaties, and remains the only global agreement devoted to an individual ecosystem - wetlands. There are currently 100 Contracting Parties from all regions of the world, and nearly all European States, including Estonia (entry into force of the Convention in 1994), Latvia (1995) and Lithuania (1993), have now joined.

An early focus on the conservation of wetlands of international importance for waterbirds, has led to a more holistic approach in the last decade. The Convention's Mission Statement, adopted by the Conference of Parties (COP) in 1996 is:

"the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world".

Between COPs, which are held every three years (the next being in May 1999, in Costa Rica), the Convention's activities are governed by a Standing Committee of representatives from each of seven regions of the world, including 'Eastern Europe' and 'Western Europe'. The day-to-day work is handled by a small secretariat (the Ramsar Bureau) co-located with IUCN Headquarters, in Gland, Switzerland. UNESCO provides the official depositary for the Convention. Contracting Parties are asked to provide National Reports on implementation of the Convention six months before each Conference of Parties.

The Convention works closely with other environmental Conventions, supranational and intergovernmental organisations, technical institutions, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and promotes active participation by national and local NGOs. In November 1996, Decision III/21 of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity invited the Ramsar Convention, "to cooperate as a lead partner in the implementation of activities under the Convention [on Biological Diversity]".

Obligations accepted by Contracting Parties

In order to become a Contracting Party, a state must deposit with UNESCO a description and boundary map of at least one wetland in its territory for the Ramsar "List of Wetlands of International Importance". Subsequently, the Government concerned may add further wetlands to the List by submitting descriptions and maps through diplomatic channels via UNESCO, or, more usually, directly to the Ramsar Bureau. Successive COPs have emphasised the obligation of Contracting Parties to "maintain the ecological character" of listed sites, through appropriate conservation management measures. As of 15 March 1997, there were 872 sites on the Ramsar List, covering more than 62 million hectares. A further thirty sites, including 22 in Ukraine, are currently in the process of designation.

Amongst the other key obligations accepted by Contracting Parties are:

Article 3.1

"Contracting Parties shall formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List, and as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory".

Article 4.1

"Each Contracting Party shall promote the conservation of wetlands and waterfowl by establishing nature reserves on wetlands, whether they are included in the List or not, and provide adequately for their wardening".

Article 4.5

"The Contracting Parties shall promote the training of personnel competent in the fields of wetland research, management and wardening".

Article 5

"The Contracting Parties shall consult with each other about implementing the obligations arising from the Convention especially in the case of a wetland extending over the territories of more than one Contracting Party or where a water system is shared by Contracting Parties. They shall at the same time endeavour to coordinate and support present and future policies and regulations concerning the conservation of wetlands and their flora and fauna".

Tools and Mechansims to assist implementation

Through Resolutions and Recommendations of COPs (especially the four most recent COPs: Canada, 1987; Switzerland 1990; Japan 1993; and Australia 1996) the Convention has adopted a number of tools and mechanisms to assist Contracting Parties in meeting their obligations under the Convention. These include:

(a) Criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance

Technical criteria for assisting the selection of sites to be added to the List of Wetlands of International Importance. There are four groups, or "clusters" of criteria, dealing with: typicalness/representativeness of wetland type; rare, endemic, and threatened species; waterbirds; and fish.

(b) Ramsar Information Sheet and Guidelines

Datasheet and accompanying guidelines, to enable Ramsar sites to be described and according to a standard format, for inclusion in the Ramsar Sites Database. Wetlands are not formally included in the List unless the Convention secretariat has received a completed Information Sheet and site boundary map from the Government concerned.

(c) Ramsar Sites Database

A computerised database and hard copy reference system containing data and maps submitted by Contracting Parties, covering wetland sites designated for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Analysis of the Ramsar Sites Database provided the basis for a recently published Overview of the World's Ramsar Sites (see section on "Useful sources of further information" below).

(d) Montreux Record

A sub-set or register of wetlands which are included in the Ramsar List, but which are nevertheless in need of priority conservation attention (requiring action at practical/field level and/or political/administrative level, to overcome a particular difficulty). The register was originally established at the 4th COP held in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1990. Sites are added to/removed from the Montreux Record according to a standard procedure established by the COP in 1996. Currently,62 sites are included in the Montreux Record. Sites cannot be added to the Montreux record without authorisation of the Government concerned.

(e) Management Guidance Procedure

At the invitation of the Contracting Party concerned, the Convention secretariat may arrange a technical, expert mission to listed Ramsar Sites, notably those included in the Montreux Record. Following the mission, the Ramsar secretariat submits a report to the Government, including the experts' recommendations for the steps required in order for the site to be removed from the Montreux Record.

(f) Management Planning Guidelines

The 5th COP (Kushiro, Japan, 1993) adopted guidelines for the preparation and implementation of management plans at Ramsar sites and other wetlands. These guidelines are reproduced in the Ramsar Convention Manual (see section on "Useful sources of further information" below).

(g) Small Grants Fund for wetlands conservation and wise use

Originally established in 1990 as the "Wetland Conservation Fund", the recently re-named "Small Grants Fund" (SGF) is a mechanism designed to assist developing countries (and, from 1997, countries whose economies are in transition) with implementation of the Convention. Technical/field projects can be supported in whole or in part to a maximum level of 40,000 Swiss francs. The annual deadline for submission of projects, which must be endorsed by the Government body responsible for implementing the Convention in the country concerned, is 31 March. In 1997, almost 1 million Swiss francs (about US$ 700,000) is available for allocation, with final approval of projects by the Ramsar Standing Committee expected during its meeting of 29 September - 2 October.

(h) Guidelines and Additional Guidance for implementation of the wise use concept

The appearance of the phrase "wise use" in the text of the Convention adopted in 1971 has been widely seen as a forward-looking reference to the now more commonly-used concepts of "sustainable use" and "sustainable development". In 1990 and in 1993, respectively, the COP adopted detailed Guidelines and Additional Guidance to assist Contracting Parties in implementation of the Wise Use concept. These documents are available from the secretariat or via the Convention's World Wide Web site. Special emphasis is placed on the development and implementation of national wetland policies (or incorporation of wetland conservation requirements into National Environment Action Plans, National Biodiversity Strategies, etc.) as a mechanism for delivering Wise Use of Wetlands. The secretariat has published an anthology of case studies (see Davis, 1993 in list of suggested references below).

Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002

The 6th COP adopted the Convention's Strategic Plan 1997-2002 which provides General Objectives, Operational Objectives and specific Actions for the Contracting Parties, Standing Committee, Scientific & Technical Review Panel, secretariat and Partner organisations. The 8 General Objectives are as follows:

  1. To progress towards universal membership of the Convention.
  2. To achieve the wise use of wetlands by implementing and further developing the Ramsar Wise Use Guidelines.
  3. To raise awareness of wetland values and functions throughout the world and at all levels.
  4. To reinforce the capacity of institutions in each Contracting Party to achieve conservation and wise use of wetlands.
  5. To ensure the conservation of all sites included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar List).
  6. To designate for the Ramsar List those wetlands which meet the Convention's criteria, especially wetland types still under-represented in the List and transfrontier wetlands.
  7. To mobilize international cooperation and financial assistance for wetland conservation and wise use in collaboration with other conventions and agencies, both governmental and non-governmental.
  8. To provide the Convention with the required institutional mechanisms and resources.

2. Overview of Implementation in the Baltic States


The following is a summary of the key information provided by UNESCO's Office of International Legal Standards with regard to the adhesion of the Baltic States to the Convention (note that according to the Convention text, the Convention enters into force four months after the deposit of the relevant legal instrument):

Date Acceptance Instrument Deposited Type of Acceptance Instrument Deposited Entry into Force Paris Protocol Regina Amendments
Estonia 29.03.94 Ratification 29.07.94 29.03.94 -
Latvia 23.07.95 Accession 25.11.95 23.07.95 -
Lithuania 20.08.93 Accession 20.12.93 20.08.93 20.08.93

The "Paris Protocol" confirmed the equality of the official versions of the Convention in the six UN languages and established a mechanism for amending the Convention. The "Regina Amendments" established a Standing Committee, secretariat, and budget. The Regina Amendments entered into force on 1 May 1994 (following acceptance by a sufficient number of Contracting Parties) and therefore apply to all of the Baltic States, even though Lithuania is the only one of the three States to have accepted the amendments on an individual basis.

The budget of the Convention is funded by contributions from each Contracting Party, with the level of payment determined according to the United Nations scale. 1996 contributions were made at the level invoiced by all three countries. For 1997, the contributions of the Baltic States, towards an overall budget of CHF 2.6 million, are as follows: Estonia CHF 1,137.00; Latvia CHF 2,274.00; Lithuania CHF 2,274.00. At the time of writing, the Latvian contribution for 1997 had already been received.

Listed Sites

The following sites have been designated for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance:


Matsalu State Nature Reserve, 58°45'N 023°40'E, 48,640 hectares

A management plan for the site has been developed in collaboration with WWF-Sweden, with implementation since 1995 in the framework of the HELCOM PITF MLW, with funding from the EU's PHARE programme.


Lake Engure, 57°17'N 023°07'E, 18,100 ha
Lake Kanieris, 57°02'N 023°28'E, 1,200 ha
Teichi and Pelechare bogs, 56°35'N 026°28'E, 24,000 ha

The Latvian National Report to the 6th COP indicated that management plans for Lake Engure and Lake Kanieris were being prepared in the framework of activities under the HELCOM PITF MLW, in conjunction with WWF-Sweden. A five-year management plan for Teichi State Nature Reserve (but not Pelechare bog) was established in 1995. Key management issues at Teichi included: cooperation with local inhabitants in order to combine conservation interests with development of the surrounding rural communities; compensation for farmers; environmental and nature conservation education.


Cepkeliai, 54°00'N 024°30'E, 10,590 ha
Kamanos, 56°16'N 022°39'E, 5,195 ha
Viesvilé, 55°09'N 022°27'E, 3,216 ha
Zuvintas, 54°28'N 023°35'E, 7,500 ha
Nemunas Delta, 55°18'N 021°20'E, 23,950 ha

Designation of additional Wetlands of International Importance

In conjunction with IWRB - now "Wetlands International" - and under a project funded by the Government of The Netherlands, reports on wetland inventory work in each of the three States have recently been produced. These indicate a significant number of potential additions to the Ramsar List.

The National Report of Estonia to the 6th COP confirmed the Government's intention to designate a further nine sites: Vilsandi National Park, Soomaa National Park, Nigula Nature Reserve, Lower Pedja Nature Reserve, Endla Nature Reserve, Muraka bog, Moonsund islands (near Dagö) with Käina Bay, Väike Väin Strait, mouth of Emajoe River with Piirissaar island.

The National Report of Latvia noted the designated protected area status of 39 lakes, 13 river valleys, and 95 peatlands. Seven potential Ramsar sites were identified by the Latvian Fund for Nature and the Latvian Ornithological Society in their 1995 report to IWRB (see reference list): Lake Pape and Nida bog, Lake Liepaja, Satini fish ponds, Riga Gulf - west coast coastal waters, Lake Babite, coast between Ainazi and Svetupe mouth, Lubana lowland complex. A further four sites were identified for further study before inclusion in the "shadow list" of Ramsar sites.

Wider implementation

At the time of the 6th COP, none of the three States had established overall National Wetland Policies, as such, preferring instead to incorporate wetland issues into broader policy documents, such as the Latvian Environmental Policy Plan. Estonia had put in place a National Ramsar Committee with governmental, scientific and NGO membership. Establishment of similar committees in Latvia and Lithuania was reported to be under consideration.

Latvia has received financial support through Ramsar project funds made available by the USA for an ecological/conservation assessment of its peat resources. Now that the Small Grants Fund is open to countries with economies in transition, it is hoped that further Baltic States projects can be supported, if only modestly, by the Convention.

Pan-European regional Ramsar Conference, 1998

At the invitation of the Government of Latvia, and with anticipated financial contributions from Contracting Parties in Western Europe, a Pan-European regional Ramsar meeting will take place in Latvia in spring 1998. Although the meeting will, by definition, be Pan-European in scope, it will provide an excellent opportunity for highlighting wetland conservation priorities in the Baltic region. Further details, including precise dates, will be announced by the secretariat following consultations with the Latvian authorities in April 1997.

3. Useful sources of further information

(a) The Convention secretariat maintains a frequently up-dated World Wide Web site, from which documentation relating to the principal obligations, tools and mechanisms of the Convention, in addition to latest news, can be accessed, at:


(b) The postal, telecommunications and e-mail details for the secretariat are as follows:

Bureau of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Rue Mauverney 28
CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland

Tel: +41-22-999.01.70
Fax: +41-22-999.01.69
E-mail: ramsar@ramsar.org

(c) The Database on listed Ramsar sites is maintained by Wetlands International, under contract to the Convention secretariat. Enquiries concerning the database may be addressed to:

Ramsar/Wetlands Sites Officer
Wetlands International
Marijkeweg 11
P.O. Box 7002
6700 CA Wageningen, The Netherlands

Tel: +31-317-47.47.11
Fax: +31-317-47.47.12
E-mail: frazier@wetlands.agro.nl

(d) The following documents and publications may be of interest:

- dealing with the Convention on Wetlands in general:

Davis, T.J. (ed.) 1993. Towards the Wise Use of Wetlands. Wise Use Project, Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland. 180pp.

Davis, T.J. (ed.), 1994. The Ramsar Convention Manual: A Guide to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland. 207pp. Also available in French and Spanish.

De Klemm, C. and Créteaux I. 1995. The Legal Development of the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland. 224pp.

Frazier, S. 1996a. An overview of the world's Ramsar sites. Wetlands International Publ. 39. Slimbridge, UK. 58pp.

Frazier, S. (compiler) 1996b. Directory of Wetlands of International Importance - An Update. Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland. 236pp.

Jones, T.A. (compiler) 1993. A Directory of Wetlands of International Importance, Part Three: Europe. Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland. 375pp. [out of print]

Koester, V. 1989. The Ramsar Convention on the Conservation of Wetlands: a legal analysis of the adoption and implementation of the Convention in Denmark. Copenhagen. 117pp.

Ramsar Convention Bureau 1997. Convention on Wetlands: Strategic Plan, Objectives and Action, 1997-2002. Proceedings of the 6th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Brisbane, Australia, 19-27 March 1996, Volume 5. Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland. 30pp.

The above publications with the exception of Jones, 1993 (out of print) and Frazier 1996b (available from NHBS Ltd., Fax: +44-1803-86.52.80) may be ordered from:

IUCN Publications Services Unit, Fax: +44-1223-27.71.75, e-mail: iucn-psu@wcmc.org.uk

- dealing specifically with Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania:

National Report of Estonia to the 6th Ramsar COP (prepared in 1995)
National Report of Latvia to the 6th Ramsar COP (prepared in 1995)
National Report of Lithuania to the 6th Ramsar COP (prepared in 1995)

Copies of the above reports, which are rather concise and in A4 format, are available by mail or by fax from the Ramsar Bureau. The reports were submitted officially by the Governments concerned and are considered to be public documents.

Estonian Fund for Nature, 1996. Report of Wetland Inventory Work in Estonia. Report prepared for Wetlands International - Africa, Europe, Middle East. Tartu.

International Waterfowl & Wetlands Research Bureau, Lithuanian Section, 1995. Preliminary Inventory of Important Wetlands in Lithuania. Vilnius.

Latvian Fund for Nature and Latvian Ornithological Society, 1995. Wetland Inventory Work in Latvia, Final Report prepared for the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau. Riga.

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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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