Ramsar sites in the Baltic Sea region
Why - and how - to designate Ramsar sites?
When the number of designated Ramsar sites was approaching 1000 in 1999, the Convention first adopted a Strategic Framework and guidelines for the future development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance through Resolution VII.11, improved by subsequent COP decisions since. The vision for the Ramsar List was defined as “to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and services”. In order to support the implementation of this vision, WWF Sweden recently published, as part of the Baltic ecoregion programme, a thorough analysis of “the representation of wetland types and species in Ramsar sites in the Baltic Sea catchment area” (available for download at www.panda.org/baltic).
The analysis focuses on the representation of different wetland types in the Ramsar List and distills priorities for future wetland conservation. Ramsar sites cover about 3% of the surface of the Baltic Sea catchment area, with the largest national coverage in Latvia (8%), Estonia (9%) and Denmark (21% !). To represent the full diversity of Baltic wetland types and their key ecohydrological functions, more sites need to be added to the List. Gaps concern sites fulfilling Ramsar Criteria 1 and 2, i.e. regionally representative, rare and unique wetland types, and sites harbouring threatened ecological communities. The report suggests that mire habitats, including raised bogs in Denmark and Germany, aapa mires in Sweden and the Russian part of Karelia, gypsum karst lakes in Lithuania, large natural river stretches, e.g. in northern Sweden, oligotrophic freshwater lakes in Finland, eutrophic lakes in Denmark, marine and coastal habitats in Latvia, Lithuania and Kaliningrad and alluvial forests throughout constitute high priorities for complementary Ramsar site designations.
The analysis focuses also on 57 animal and plant species, most of them listed by the European Union Flora, Fauna and Habitats Directive, including seals, otter, selected birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, specific mussels, water insects, aquatic plants and mosses. It lists species sufficiently represented in existing Ramsar sites and 23 species not sufficiently represented, including endemic and priority species for conservation efforts. This shows a lack of sites fulfilling Ramsar Criteria 2, 3, and 4 (species and ecological communities).
The report further provides summary comments on a country-by-country basis. They are particularly helpful to reflect on future priorities for the development of the Ramsar List. A specific chapter analyses the protection status and management of the Ramsar sites in the Baltic catchment. Most of them in the EU member states benefit from the legal protection provided by their inclusion in the Natura 2000 network. Minor adjustments are proposed for Estonia and Latvia, and boundary adjustments for more than 20% of the Swedish Ramsar sites, to make them consistent with the Natura 2000 sites. For non-EU states, WWF considers the legal protection status of the Ramsar sites adequate in Norway and presumably also in Russia and Belarus, pending further analysis. A number of overview tables provide useful opportunities for comparison between the 14 countries sharing the Baltic catchment. Wetland ecosystems cover about 14% (23,570,000 ha) of the total catchment area. There remains space, therefore, to adjust the Ramsar List to fully represent the diversity of wetlands and their ecohydrological functions, to contribute to maintaining the global biodiversity, to foster cooperation among Parties, IOPs, and local stakeholders, and to use the Ramsar site network as a tool to promote cooperation in relation to complementary environmental treaties, as spelt out in Handbook 14 “Designating Ramsar sites”. This analysis provides a helpful tool to this end and can probably inspire similar initiatives in other regions of the world?
“We hope this report will help decision-makers realize the importance of well-functioning wetlands”, says Lennart Gladh, Baltic Sea Coordinator of WWF Sweden. “The report also outlines where the need is most acute and what types of wetlands are most underrepresented in the present scheme. Wetlands are the kidneys of our ecosystem. If you remove the kidneys, the patient will die. Without protection and restoration of wetlands and freshwater systems it will simply not be possible to reduce the diffuse nutrient emissions to the Baltic Sea.”
The WWF analysis considers the representation of raised bogs in Ramsar sites in the Baltic Sea catchment states “acceptable”. This bog in the core area of Kemeri National Park in Latvia is not yet part of a Ramsar site, but could easily become so through the extension of an existing Ramsar site inside the National Park.
-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar