A Ramsar Site at the heart of regional development

A Ramsar Site at the heart of regional development

17 December 2013

Saint-Omer is a small city at the edge of the North Sea coastal floodplain in northern France. Its neighbouring marsh, the “Marais Audomarois”, has been for 14 centuries at the centre of the regional socio-economic life. On 13-15 November 2013 local and regional authorities of Saint-Omer and its surroundings welcomed 200 wetland specialists from France and abroad for the annual seminar of the “Association Ramsar France”.

The Marais Audomarois Ramsar Site in northern France is famous for its vegetable production.

The Association Ramsar France is a large bottom-up movement aimed at supporting the implementation of the Convention. The association’s comprehensive programme of work could be used as a model for other countries. Its activities include raising awareness about Ramsar, promoting the Ramsar quality label, supporting the designation of new Sites, improving the management of existing Sites, encouraging knowledge sharing and seeking political support. Since 2009, it has brought together Ramsar actors, including elected officials, administrators, wetland managers, scientists and educators, representatives of NGOs and technical experts.

Autumn impression on one of the small canals in the Marais Audomarois.

During the fifth annual Ramsar seminar, participants exchanged experiences on managing wetlands in complex socio-economical contexts across France. They also discussed priorities for the new national wetland action plan; the repercussions of the new European Union agricultural policy and its implementation in different regions of France; and the tourism potential of many wetlands, that is still largely untapped.

Participants had the opportunity to visit the Marais Audomarois and its nature reserve. They also tried agricultural products from the marsh, including vegetables, meat and fish, as well as local beer and spirits.

Autumn mist over the Belgian Ramsar Site De Ijzerbroeken in the Yser river floodplain.

The “Ramsar House”, a 13 million Euros building currently under construction, located where town and marsh meet, will open its doors next year. It will serve as an exhibition centre and provide office space for the staff of the Regional Nature Park managing the wetland area which was also designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve during the Ramsar seminar.

Revealing the plaque for the Ramsar House, still under construction and future seat of the Biosphere Reserve and Regional Nature Park.

A number of agreements were signed to mark commitments to the protection and sustainable management of wetlands. These include the Marsh Contract 2014-2025, a collective ambition of all stakeholders for the wise use of the Marais Audomarois, and two twinning agreements with the downstream Ramsar Site of the Yser river floodplain in neighbouring Belgium, and with the Ferlo Biosphere Reserve in Senegal. The Association Ramsar France starts to be connected across national borders, and international experts participate in its annual seminars, including Ramsar experts from Croatia (in 2012) and the Czech Republic. At the national level, Ramsar France will continue developing its political influence with the Parliament and the Government.

The local organisers of the 2013 Ramsar seminar Luc Barbier (Regional Nature Park, right) and Francis Doyer (city of Saint-Omer) in their new Ramsar Site-branded field parka.

The next meeting of the Association Ramsar France has been scheduled for 2014 in Corsica.

Report and photo by Tobias Salathé, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe