New publication on Eastern European transboundary wetlands

29/01/2004

The question of the collaborative international management of transboundary wetlands, and of transboundary Ramsar Sites, has become increasingly prominent over the past few years. A new publication from the Institute of Ecology of Vilnius University and OMPO Vilnius provides an excellent model for further development of this promising concept -- Important Transboundary Belarusian-Lithuanian and Lithuanian-Russian Wetlands, by Saulius Svazas (et al), with financial support from the NGO OMPO (Migratory Birds of the Western Palearctic) and the Ramsar Convention is an extremely well-produced and well-illustrated 96-page softcover book, which can be obtained from OMPO Vilnius (svazas@ekoi.lt) and for which Ramsar's Tobias Salathé has provided the following insightful foreword. Here it is.

I congratulate the authors and OMPO, the organization working for migratory birds of the Western Palearctic, for this beautifully illustrated publication. It provides essential information on nine important wetland areas situated on international borders; six of them shared between the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Lithuania and three shared between the Kaliningrad Region of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Lithuania. Together, these nine sites represent an impressive array of Baltic wetland types, including upstream forest wetlands, peatbogs and lakes, as well as rivers and their floodplain wetlands and coastal delta areas. The well-organized chapters illustrate the need for coordinated, cooperative and, most hopefully, also common management activities across the borders.

As an international treaty, the Convention on Wetlands (adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar on 2 February 1971) has always underlined the obligations of Contracting Parties, pursuant to Article 5, to cooperate in the management of shared wetland sites, i.e. sites that cross international boundaries. Furthermore, Article 3.1 of the Convention indicates that cooperation should extend to all shared wetlands, whether Ramsar-listed or not. On the road towards this goal, this publication provides an important milestone by summarizing the findings of a first important phase, the phase of information collection, inventory and assessment of wetland values and functions.

During times of national isolation and occasional mistrust between neighbouring countries, inaccessible bogs and waterlogged forest areas were adequate places to install international borders, only to be crossed by wild animals and possibly also some smugglers. Nowadays, times are changing: former isolated zones of political influence open up and European integration is progressing rapidly. As a consequence, the wild places described in this brochure receive increasing attention in their own right: for the hydrological functions that their ecosystems perform, and for the natural heritage they contain. They are rich places of life, harboring flora and fauna species of all sorts. Downstream and in the river valley floodplains, drainage works and the intensification of agricultural practices put increased pressure on wet grasslands, small ponds and marshes surrounded by arable land. Especially in the coastal area and along lakeshores, increased numbers of visitors, in pursuit of leisure activities such as angling, fishing, hunting, swimming, boating and other forms of water sports, discover these valuable, but fragile, landscapes. Areas that were formerly moved apart by international borders, and inaccessible to the general public, now attract the interest of regional planners and economically minded resource users. Transboundary wetland ecosystems along international borders are thus coming to the forefront of our time's challenges to conciliate the conservation of natural resources and cultural heritage with the requirements of sustainable social and economic development at local level.

OMPO took up the challenge set out by the Convention and started work on these shared sites in 2001, with additional project support from the Ramsar Small Grants Fund. Two years later, at the time of publication of this overview, one major transboundary Ramsar Site has already been established in the Cepkeliai-Kotra wetland complex by the Lithuanian and Belarusian authorities. It provides the central node in the chain of the nine transboundary areas presented in this brochure. Hopefully, other Ramsar Site designations will follow in due course. As pointed out again and again in the individual chapters, Ramsar Site designation in both adjacent countries is in most cases a real help to support a common management approach. Information compiled recently and summarized in this publication provides convincing arguments to this end. It also sets a standard on how best to make use of Ramsar's approach to collect wetland site data for inventory and assessment, by following closely the structure of the "Ramsar Information Sheet" (RIS) adopted by the Contracting Parties. The RIS provides a standardized format for recording data about Ramsar Sites, to be entered into the Ramsar Sites Database. A particular service that is becoming publicly accessible on the Internet via http://www.wetlands.org/RSDB/default.htm. The use of satellite imagery and the detailed site maps reproduced here are particularly useful to illustrate the peculiarities of the nine transboundary sites presented in detail. Together with the lists of names and illustrations of species and natural habitats, the book provides valuable data, not only for the manager and administrator of protected areas at local, national and European level, but also for the interested public at large. Cross-reference with the European Union classification is taken care of and the criteria of international importance for Ramsar listing are provided in detail. This will satisfy the professional reader.

Overall, a publication rich in information and content and very pleasant to the eye. I recommend it wholeheartedly to a wide readership. May this brochure become an efficient tool for the steps now necessary to elaborate common management and conservation approaches in the near future.

Tobias Salathe
Senior Advisor for Europe
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

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