The Conventions CEPA Programme
Austria's National Ramsar Committee Meets
Austria's National Ramsar Committee Meeting
1 3-14 June, 2007, Keutschach am Hafnersee, Austria
Founded 19 years ago, Austria's National Ramsar Committee (NRC) has to be one of the oldest in the Ramsar Convention. Meetings take place once or twice a year and the location is rotated around the country, always nearby a Ramsar site. This year's meeting in June, organized by Ramsar's National Focal Point for Austria, Gerhard Sigmund, took place at Keutschach am Hafnersee nearby Klagenfurt in Austria's Carinithian Province. The Convention's CEPA Programme Officer, Sandra Hails, was able to attend a part of this meeting.
National Ramsar Committees are an important structure at the national level for implementation of the Convention. In the current Ramsar Strategic Plan (2006-2008) Parties are asked to establish such committees to provide the opportunity for input from, and representation of, a broad cross-sectoral range of stakeholders.
The Austrian Committee is indeed cross-sectoral, with members representing the Lebenministerium (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management), from Nature Conservation, Water Management, Flood Protection, the Ramsar Administrative Authorities of 9 Austrian Governments (9 Laender), the STRP National Focal Point from the University of Vienna, representatives from the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry, representatives from Austrian Federal Forests (Osterreichische Bundesforste), as well as good NGO representation (WWF, BirdLife, Naturschutzbund).
The reports by various members of the Committee brought participants up-to-date on diverse international and national Ramsar and other wetland-related matters - and this of course is a key function of these committees alongside the planning of future activities. The reports included, for example:
- Potential new Ramsar Sites;
- A floodplain inventory project;
- A comprehensive wetland inventory project, the recent study tour of the trilateral Ramsar Platform "Morava-Dyje-Danube;
- A summary of the successful first year of operation of Austria's Schrems Wetland Information and Training Centre "Unterwasserreich" in the region Waldviertel located on the Austrian/Czech border;
- The preparations for the 1st European STRP National Focal Point Communication meeting being planned by the Austrian Ministry, the National STRP Focal Point Professior Gert Michael Steiner, and the Land Salzburg, from 17-19 September 2007;
- An update of the outcome of the Convention's 35th Standing Committee meeting in February 2007; and
- A detailed description of the latest campaign by the national NGO, Naturschutzbundes (Birgit Mair-Markart from this NGO is the nominated CEPA NGO Focal Point for the Convention).
The discussion on the STRP National Focal Point meeting in Austria noted the utility of this innovative proposal by Austria: it will allow the European STRP NFPs the opportunity to meet face-to-face for the first time to get to know one another, share their collective experiences on technical challenges in conserving wetlands across the region, identify common challenges, improve regional networking, and hopefully improve the interaction between the NFPs and the elected STRP. This initiative could well set the scene for other regional STRP National Focal Point Meetings.
The detailed presentation by Mag.Gernot Neuwirth on the ongoing Uberleben project from Naturschutzbundes (a contribution to Europe's 2010 Countdown campaign on halting the loss of biodiversity) showed impressive results in this 2006-2010 project. With financial support from the Ramsar Administrative Authority Ministry of Environment as well as the Austrian Federal Forests, this campaign presents a "wanted" list of endangered Austrian wild plant and animal species and engages the Austrian public in filing reports on-line on sightings. The quality of the reports is monitored by a team of experts. Detailed information is available here http://www.naturschutzbund.at/. For the moment this is only available in German but should be available in English soon and provides a good model for replication in other countries.
Ramsar's CEPA Programme Officer gave a brief presentation on National Ramsar Committees and their important role in implementation of the Convention at the national level. She reminded the committee of the comment in the European regional report to COP9, where the Senior Regional Advisor for Europe, Tobias Salathé, noted "Those CPs who have done so [set up an NRC], and have good experiences with such committees, should more actively advise and convince those who still need to establish such committees". With only around 50% of European Parties having such committees and many of these not being fully functional or cross-sectoral in membership, the possibility was discussed of Austria giving a brief account of the set up of the committee, as well as the initial and ongoing challenges in its operation so that this can be shared within the region and across regions.
The meeting took place within walking distance of the Moor- und Seenlandschaft Keutschach-Schiefling Ramsar Site and towards the end of the first afternoon, committee member Mag. Klaus Krainer from the local branch of the NGO Arge Naturschutz, conducted the participants on a walk around the Site, highlighting the challenges in managing this lake and the surrounding peatland habitat. Klaus carries responsibility for managing the site and coordinates the work of two local NGOs working at the site. A key management issue has resulted from the partial draining of this wetland many decades ago causing the partial drying of the peat and resultant growth of pine trees which contribute further to the drying of the area. Part of the management solution in operation involves two local NGOs working with local farmers who will cut the trees and benefit from the production of woodchips. Another issue is the spread of Typha, associated with the rising nutrient levels from enriched agricultural run-off.
This particular meeting ran over two days with a mix of presentations, discussions and excursions. The Committee meets once or twice a year, helping immensely to maintain the planning and cooperation between these key players in Ramsar implementation in the country.
Some photos from the day 1 excursion:
Moor- und Seenlandschaft Keutschach-Schiefling Ramsar Site, designated in 2004
Mag. Klaus Krainer from the local branch of the NGO Arge Naturschutz explains the management challenges and solutions at the site in these next two photographs
A major management challenge is controlling the encroachment of young trees in the peatland surrounding Hafnersee - these are visible in the foreground
Naturschutzbund, the Ramsar CEPA NGO Focal Point, launched their Uberleben public campaign in 2006 to stop the loss of biodiversity. Mag. Gernot Neuwirth updated the NRC on the success of this project which will continue through to 2010 as part of the European Countdown 2010 campaign