Wetlands in the EEA's Third Assessment of Europe's Environment

25/06/2003

"There are multiple threats to Ramsar sites and the surrounding areas. In all countries, agriculture is perceived as the main threat, followed by pollution and water regulation - both probably due to agriculture."

This is the quintessence of chapter 11.4.1 on "Wetlands" of the Third Assessment of Europe's Environment prepared by the European Environment Agency (EEA) for the Ministerial Conference "Environment for Europe" held under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on 21-23 May 2003. The 340-page report follows earlier comprehensive assessments published in 1995 and 1998. It shows that "most progress on environmental improvement continues to come from 'end-of-pipe' measures, actions under well-established international conventions and legislation, or as a result of economic recession and restructuring" as indicated in its foreword by Gordon McInnes, Interim Executive Director of the EEA, who concludes that "this report will contribute to both the understanding of where we are in the sequence from early warning to resolution of the various prominent environmental problems facing Europe and to the decision-making required to restore and maintain environmental quality and achieve sustainable development."

Ramsar national Administrative Authorities are likely to agree with the analysis of the EEA reproduced below. After all, COP8 has adopted Resolutions on a framework for wetlands inventory (Res. VIII.6), management planning for Ramsar sites (Res. VIII.14), wetland restoration (Res. VIII.16), and agriculture, wetlands and water resource management (Res. VIII.34) that clearly highlight the problems also perceived by the analysts of the EEA (and in the case of the wetlands chapter, reproduced below, largely based on Ramsar's database):

"Wetlands provide multiple social, economic and environmental benefits, for example water flow regulation. They cover about 9.9% of the whole of Europe, about 4.4% of the EU, 4.4% of non-EU Europe excluding the Russian Federation and 12.7% of the Russian Federation. In southern European countries, wetlands are now scarce (0.3-2.1% of the land area).

Wetlands have been generally declining for decades - both in area and quality - but this is still difficult to quantify with wetlands inventories in Europe developing only slowly. The intensity and the effects of pressures depend largely on the type of wetlands concerned (marshlands, bogs, floodplains and so on). An indication of the main threats to wetlands can be derived from the Ramsar database.

Ramsar sites relate mainly to wetlands that are important for waterbirds and do not fully reflect the general situation of wetlands. In boreal countries with large areas of wet forests and upland wetlands, the main threats to these ecosystems are forestry, with draining and clear-felling, and peat extraction. The presence of human habitations within Ramsar sites is perceived as a greater source of threat in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and Eastern Europe Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) than in western European countries, possibly due, among other reasons, to less well developed contractual agreements with local residents.

Estimates of loss of wetland habitats are available from a pilot project led by Wetlands International and from national reports on biodiversity. Only Denmark provides recent indications of trends, showing no further loss since the 1990s.

At the EU level, the Water Framework Directive, which sets provisions for the protection of water resources at the catchment level, will help in developing wetland conservation strategies. The European Charter on Water Resources adopted by the environment ministers in October 2001, provides a framework at the European level.

As agreed in the Ramsar Convention, many countries have implemented policies or national action plans to halt the decline of wetlands. These, combined with increasing wetlands restoration programmes, may be stabilizing the very negative trend perceptible up to the late 1980s, at least in the EU countries. Rates of wetland loss resulting from the different economic conditions in eastern Europe are likely to be higher now than in the mid-1980s.

Figure 11.4 shows the level of implementation of wetlands conservation-related policies in European countries, as reported in their second national reports under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Countries in their national reports have recently made more specific and complete information available to the Ramsar Convention (cf. at www.ramsar.org/index_cop8.htm )."

To find out more about the state of Europe's environment, visit the European Environment Agency at www.eea.eu.int where the full report can be ordered and an executive summary, in 20 different languages, can be downloaded.

Europe's environment: the third assessment
European Environment Agency
Environmental assessment report no. 10
Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2003, Luxemburg
ISBN 92-9167-574-1

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