International seminar on the Bug River

09/01/2009

The Bug river - a vital link in the Pan-European Ecological Network

International seminar, 3-14 November 2008, Lublin, Poland

The (Western) Bug river is a tributary to and forms part of the Vistula river basin. The Bug river (772 km long) has its source in the Lviv region of Ukraine. Further downstream it forms the border between Ukraine and Poland and then between Poland and Belarus, before flowing through eastern Poland and emptying its waters close to the Polish capital into the Zegrzynskie reservoir on the Narew river, Warsaw’s main source of drinking water. The Bug is also connected through the Dniepr-Bug canal with the Pripiat river further east in Ukraine. Arguably the Bug river floodplain forms the backbone of the wider Polesie region, containing some of Europe’s richest natural treasures. Long stretches are in a natural state with natural discharge patterns, regularly flooded floodplain areas, a relatively good water quality and high biodiversity values.

In 2002, IUCN Poland produced an analysis of the outstanding biodiversity values along the Bug river and recommendations for its protection. Subsequently, specialists in the three countries worked on the establishment of a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme MaB), including a number of existing Ramsar Sites and nationally protected areas, as a major contribution the continent-wide Pan-European Ecological Network promoted by the Council of Europe. In June 2004, a working meeting between national, MaB and Ramsar experts took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (cf. http://www.ramsar.org/wn/w.n.mab_polesie2004.htm). At that time Poland had just joined the European Union. Thus, the Bug river now forms the border between the EU and its neighbouring Newly Independent States (of the former USSR) which poses special challenges to coordinated management of biodiversity and water resources.

The UNECE Assessment of transboundary rivers, lakes and groundwaters, published in 2007, mentions that significant variations in the Bug flow regime due to melting snow in spring and low discharges in autumn greatly affect the quality of water. The river basin is a region with poorly developed water supply networks and even less developed sewage systems, especially in the rural areas where many villages and small towns do not have sewage systems at all. Thus the Bug water quality is mainly affected by municipal wastewater discharges. Pollution from agriculture and the food processing industry is an additional pressure factor.

Wageningen International, with the support of three of Ramsar’s International Organisation Partners (IOPs), the IUCN Regional Office for Europe, Wetlands International’s Kiyv office and BirdLife Belarus, used the work accomplished by different partners to clarify the current state of cooperation between the three governments and to explore possibilities of enhancing transboundary cooperation between relevant government bodies, NGOs and scientific institutions in the fields of compatible methods of habitat classification, water resources management, biodiversity and water quality monitoring and protected area designation and management. To this end, an international seminar was held in Lublin (eastern Poland) on 13-14 November 2008, perfectly organized by Henk Zingstra of Wageningen International.

The seminar brought together about 30 water and biodiversity management experts from the countries concerned, as well as representing UNESCO, the European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC), Wageningen International, the Ramsar Convention and its IOPs listed above. The presentations and exchanges between them focused on the perspectives of the joint designation of a trilateral Ramsar site and Biosphere Reserve and of the transboundary cooperation to implement the European Union Water Framework Directive in the Bug river basin, shared between the EU member state Poland and its non-EU neighbours Ukraine and Belarus. Different working groups were elaborating specific proposals to this end and the participants prepared a joint statement (attached, PDF) stressing the need for international cooperation and harmonization, using the EU Water Framework Directive as a coordinating tool.

The process briefly summarized above shows an effective way forward for Ramsar Administrative Authorities at national and subnational level to work together with partners in the water management sector and corresponding agencies in neighbouring countries and regions. Transboundary cooperation was also supported by international partners, such as the intergovernmental UNECE Convention on Transboundary Waters and the UNESCO MaB Programme, as well as the relevant offices of Ramsar’s IOPs. Such efforts need additional financial support. Luckily the Dutch government, through its programmes of international cooperation, has been supporting cooperation along the Bug river for many years, and facilitates the cooperation through the expert services of the Capacity Development and Institutional Change programme of the Wageningen University and Research Centre. This augurs very favourably for a sustainable future of the Bug river floodplains and the maintenance of its values.

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

Bram Huijsman, director of Wageningen International, opened the seminar in the reception hall of the Lublin Woijvodship, i.e. the offices of the provincial government. Photo by K. Kitnaes, Orbicon Denmark.

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