Wetlands for water, forests and people – a powerful relationship

On 13-15 September 2011 an international conference took place in Murmansk (Russian Federation), in one of the northernmost cities (69°N). It focused on wetlands and the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in the Barents-Euro-Arctic Region (www.beac.st), where a formal intergovernmental programme of cooperation exists between the administrative regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia around the Barents Sea and along the Green Belt of Fennoscandia (at the border of Russia with Norway and Finland).

The conference aimed to increase the awareness of the importance of wetland ecosystem services, to strengthen the regional Ramsar network and the cooperation in the Nordic-Baltic region (through Ramsar’s NorBalWet regional initiative). About 75 participants discussed wetland ecosystem services, wetland management, sustainable wetland tourism, climate change and wetlands in the region and the development of a regional programme on Communication, Education, Participation and Awareness, based on local experiences. They underlined the usefulness of transboundary collaboration and called for enhanced cooperation between different socio-economic sectors, institutions and organisations. The conference focused much on the 37 Ramsar Sites in the region, on their monitoring and how to make access to data most effective. The participants strongly called for further Ramsar Site designations, especially in the Russian parts of the region, notably in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts, in the Karelian and Komi Republics and in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (cf. the conference summary and recommendations are here [PDF]).

During the International Year of Forests, the conference provided an occasion to celebrate also the 40th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention and the 20th anniversary of the Russian State Nature Reserve Pasvik with two dinner receptions, supported by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and Natural Heritage Service (Metsähallitus), and the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (DirNat) and Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (Bioforsk).

On the last day, the participants were driven westwards to the Pechenga region, passing the industrial mining town of Nickel, to visit Varlam Island in the core zone of Pasvik Zapovednik (State Nature Reserve), situated along the Green Belt in the strictly-controlled border zone.

The closest town to Pasvik Zapovednik is Nickel, set up besides its nickel mine that has created much income and environmental impact.

The lush valley of Pasvik river stretches downstream of Lake Inari in Finland and marks the Norwegian-Russian border before entering the Barents Sea. So far, only the Norwegian Pasvik Nature Reserve (1910 ha), opposite of Varlam Island, was included in the Ramsar List (Ramsar Site N°810).

The Varlam Island visitor trail along Pasvik river, photo 1.

The Varlam Island visitor trail along Pasvik river, photo 2.

Vladimir Chizhov, director of the Russian Pasvik State Nature Reserve, opens the border-fence gate to let the conference participants enter the Varlam Island visitor trail.

However, the Norwegian-Russian wetland cooperation across the border is already well developed. And this gives hope that the Russian Zapovednik and the wider Norwegian National Park and Landscape Protection Area could also be included in a Transboundary Ramsar Site. During the field visit, the Finnish participants agreed that not including the Vätsäri Wilderness Area, with upstream lake Inari and the Sámi cultural heritage sites, into a Trilateral Ramsar Site would be a missed opportunity indeed. With financial support from the European Union Interreg programme, the promotion of nature protection and sustainable nature tourism in the Pasvik-Inari Trilateral Park area has already started (www.pasvik-inari.net ). Transboundary cooperation for the coordinated management of reindeer foraging areas, wet forests, rivers, lakes and peatlands provides important opportunities for biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and local development. The managers of other Ramsar Sites and wetland areas in the Barents region and beyond are interested to learn more from the Pasvik example.

Anna Vozbrannaya from Meshchera National Park and Ramsar Site in Vladimir Oblast (near Moscow) is offered salt and bread as a traditional welcome, while Natalia Polikarpova (red pullover), the conference organiser, is already thinking about the following exploratory tour of the island.

Reported by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Europe.

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