Austria hosts international conference on transboundary Ramsar sites

26/11/2004

Management of transboundary Ramsar Sites - Chances and Challenges

Summary of a Conference held in Illmitz, Austria, in the Information Centre of the transboundary national park and Ramsar site Neusiedler See-Seewinkel/Ferto-Hanság, on 18./19. November 2004

Transboundary Ramsar sites - "shared wetlands" in the sense of Article 5 of the Ramsar Convention - pose major challenges to conservation in terms of habitat management, regional planning, sustainable development initiatives and wetland-related environmental education/public awareness activities.

In Europe, the need for an improved management of transboundary wetlands has become more and more pressing in recent years. For historical reasons, important wetland sites are often located along political borders. With the recent reshaping of the political landscape in Europe, borders have either lost their former importance or gained new significance. In both cases, border regions and their wetlands are subject to increasing pressure, either from ambitious economic development projects moving into the seemingly "empty" spaces, or from the creation of new border infrastructure. For many shared wetlands, a strictly national approach to wetland conservation is no longer sufficient - instead, efficient modes of transboundary co-operation are needed. Creating awareness for wetland connectivity across national borders, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and opening a broader view on management issues will be of paramount importance to the long-term survival of many transboundary wetlands.

The Illmitz conference has provided a forum for an intensive exchange of experience on these issues. The conference was attended by conservationists, reserve managers, regional planners, environmental educators and administrative authorities involved in the management of transboundary Ramsar sites.

An introductory presentation from the Ramsar Secretariat highlighted the importance of transboundary wetlands in Europe, pointed to the legal tools and frameworks available for the conservation of shared wetlands and presented major initiatives in this field. The provision of guidance to the contracting parties of the Convention was envisaged.

The main part of the conference was devoted to the presentation of case-studies from central and southeastern Europe, both with respect to problems and solutions in transboundary wetland management. Examples covered a diverse array of wetlands (rivers, floodplains, lakes, mires) from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Institutional and legal arrangements, wetland inventories and the development of transboundary management plans featured prominently in the presentations from border wetlands in Lithuania/Belarus/Russia, from Lake Prespa (Greece, Macedonia, Albania), from the Morava/Dyje Floodplains (Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic) and from the Danube Delta/Lower Prut region (Romania, Ukraine, Moldova). A major mid-term goal envisaged by these sites is the establishment of closely integrated, multilateral management schemes and authorities. Additionally, the Prespa example opened an interesting perspective on wetland conservation as a driving force in social and regional development activities. Examples from the Middle Danube (Kopacki Rit and Gornje Podunavlje floodplains, Croatia, Serbia) highlighted the challenges and achievements of wetland conservation in a region that has been shaken by severe political conflicts In the recent past. A presentation from the Waldviertel/Trebonsko wetlands (Austria, Czech Republic) focused on the creation of a joint Ramsar-Centre as a platform for both management and public awareness activities. The steps towards a joint Education Strategy were presented for the Neusiedler See-Seewinkel-Ferto region (Austria, Hungary).

Two presentations provided examples for large scale inventories, threat analyses and needs assessments with respect to water management and wetland conservation - one dealing with the entire Balkan Region, the other with a selection of large wetlands in central and southeastern Europe.

Imminent threats to numerous Ramsar Sites along the Danube, resulting from EU-wide policies and spatial planning activities were treated in a presentation on the Trans European Networks. Attached to this presentation was a short film on the controversial project of a shipping lane through the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta. Threats and opportunities from large scale regional planning within the EU were further exemplified by a presentation on current planning activities in the border region of Eastern Austria/Western Hungary/Western Slovakia. Another regional scenario was presented for the Drava/Mura river system (Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria).

In the last part of the conference, two workshops aimed at drawing conclusions and recommendations from the presentations and discussions. The first workshop dealt with three topics: a) threats to shared wetlands and the best ways to face them, b) transboundary wetlands as focus for sustainable development activities in border regions and c) challenges for transboundary water and habitat management.

The second workshop focused on CEPA-activities for transboundary wetlands.

In the first workshop, participants provided an exhaustive list of problems for transboundary wetland management. The problems were summarised under five major categories: Unsustainable use of resources, large scale new development, lack of proper legislation and capacity, negative impacts of land use change and negative military impacts. To solve the problems, the participants recommended to:

  • make use of Ramsar guidance and recommendations
  • match the appropriate decision-making level to the problem
  • treat transboundary sites as ecological units and to recognise their functional and ecological unity
  • involve actors of all levels
  • disseminate best practice and success stories as well as lessons learnt
  • promote cooperation across borders and sectors
  • join and implement conventions and agreements
  • build necessary capacity
  • invite international donors
  • establish joint scientific baseline data
  • perform education and awareness raising at all levels
  • establish permanent cooperational structures
  • establish joint conservation management structures

The second workshop dealt with Communication, Education and Public Awareness activities in shared wetland sites.

Four major conditions of success for CEPA activities were identified in this special context:

  • The need to solve border crossing problems
  • The importance of visualizing the unity of a shared wetland in all CEPA materials/activities
  • The need to harmonise communication modes with local populations on both sides of the border
  • The need for a joint, transboundary education strategy

The presentations and recommendations of the conference will be made available as pdf-files on CD.

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