Austrian National Ramsar Committee, September 2005
Austrian Committee meets at lake Neusiedl Ramsar site
The Republic of Austria is a country made up of nine federal states. At national level, the "Life Ministry" (www.lebensministerium.at) is responsible for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management and acts as the Ramsar administrative authority. Besides the elaboration and application of national policies, within the legal framework of the European Union, the implementation of the Ramsar Convention is largely the responsibility of the federal states, and Austria established a National Ramsar Committee as early as 1990 to act as the vital link between the Federal Ministry and the nine federal states. This link is physically provided by Wolfgang Pelikan (from one of the federal states), who chairs the National Ramsar Committee and works in close coordination with Gerhard Sigmund, the Ramsar focal point of the Federal Ministry. The Committee is furthermore composed of the Austrian national Ramsar focal points for STRP and CEPA, wetland experts representing each of the federal states, the Federal Environment Agency (www.umweltbundesamt.at), the water management authority, the national farmer's union, and a number of key NGOs.
The National Ramsar Committee meets every six months to review progress with wetland conservation and wise use throughout Austria, to prepare and comment on national policies, to debate specific problems and provide advice, and to discuss the future designation of underrepresented wetland types for the Ramsar List. Its meetings normally take place near a Ramsar site. On 14-15 September 2005 this was the case in the small village of Purbach, an attractive vine-growing locality and tourist hot spot at the shores of lake Neusiedl, a transboundary Ramsar site (composed of site N°271 "Neusiedlersee, Seewinkel & Hanság" and site N°420 "Lake Fertö" in Hungary). During the meeting of the Ramsar Committee, the town of Purbach was formally recognized as the host of a new Ramsar information centre, to be opened in 2006, thus to become the second such centre in the federal state of Burgenland, following the opening in 2000 of the Ramsar information centre in Loipersdorf next to site N°1169 "Lafnitztal". The local authorities consider the existence of a Ramsar site, complemented by a specific centre for public information, education and awareness, as a definite asset for local economic development, including tourism and the improvement of agri-environmental methods.
During the meeting, the National Ramsar Committee spent much time improving a draft of the "Austrian Wetlands Strategy 2005-2010", based on the structure of the global Ramsar Strategic Plan 2003-2008, prepared by Irene Oberleitner of the Federal Environment Agency. She and her colleagues also maintain a very rich database on Ramsar matters (www.ramsar.at), providing an incredible source of information in German on the Convention and with many links to other relevant sites (in English). The Committee finalized minimal standards for the implementation of the Convention, following a thorough analysis (both at the national and federal state levels) by the national Court of Auditors (www.rechnungshof.at). It furthermore reviewed the issues and draft Resolutions tabled for Ramsar COP9 in Kampala and discussed Austrian positions to be defended. WWF Austria and the Austrian State Forestry enterprise provided a report on their successful five-year programme on peatlands, which resulted in the restoration of 21 bogs (250 ha) and the designation of six new peatland Ramsar sites. After all this intensive work, tasting of the local products from kitchen and cellar was a must, plus a brief visit to the reedbeds along the eastern shore of lake Neusiedl. Here Andreas Ranner, the Burgenland representative on the Committee and local organiser, explained current management measures and presented the newly opened visitor trail.
The work of the Austrian National Ramsar Committee provides indeed an impressive illustration of how a national wetlands committee can be an effective tool to coordinate and support Ramsar matters at national, regional (or provincial) and local level. Its leaders and members are to be congratulated for their efforts and successes. May they serve for many other countries as an inspiration.
-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar
Andreas Ranner, National Ramsar Committee representative from Burgenland explains the management problems of the drying reedbeds of lake Neusiedl to the other Committee members, amongst others STRP focal point Gerd Michael Steiner with his back to the camera (in black), as Irene Oberleitner, of the Federal Environment Agency, and Wolfgang Pelikan, the chair of the Committee, are listening in the background right
A view of the extensive reedbeds along the eastern shores of steppe lake Neusiedl; in the background are the dry limestone hills of the Leithagebirge Nature Park visible.