Austria hosts international conference on transboundary Ramsar sites

Austria hosts international conference on transboundary Ramsar sites

26 November 2004

Management of transboundary Ramsar Sites - Chances and Challenges

Illmitz, Austria, 18-19 November 2004

"Management of transboundary Ramsar sites - chances and challenges" was the theme of an international conference organised on 18-19 November 2004 at Illmitz in one of Europe's outstanding transboundary Ramsar sites, shared by Austria and Hungary: Lake Neusiedl/Fertö (Ramsar sites no. 271 & 420). The site is composed of the typical steppe lake with alkaline waters, extensive reedbeds and marshes. In the adjacent Seewinkel and Hanság areas remains a complex of 80 small lakes and remnant salt meadows in an intensively farmed landscape. In ceremonies held on 24 April 1994, a single transboundary National Park was created between Austria and Hungary. This conference, organised by WWF Austria and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Life (Environment, Agriculture, Forestry and Water), marked ten years of successful cooperation.

Many Wetlands of International Importance are located in border zones of adjoining countries. Despite their obvious transboundary connectivity, these shared wetlands are often not perceived and treated as ecological and hydrological units. This poses major challenges to wetland conservation, not only in terms of habitat management, regional planning and decision making, but also with respect to environmental education and public awareness activities. Especially in Europe, some political borders are losing their importance - little-developed former border regions are no longer at the periphery, but in the centre of new economic spaces. Ambitious development projects pose new threats even to wetland sites that were considered fairly well protected before.

These were some of the themes addressed by the 50 or so participants including experts and managers of transboundary wetland sites across Europe, such as the Prespa lakes (shared among Albania, Greece and the FYR of Macedonia), the Danube-Morava-Dyie floodplains (Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic), the lower Prut-Danube delta complex (Republic of Moldova, Romania, Ukraine), the Cepkeliai-Kotra wetland complex (Lithuania, Belarus), the Kopacki Rit-Béda-Karapancsa-Gornje Podunavlje floodplains at the confluence of Drava and Danube (Croatia, Hungary, Serbia-Montenegro), or the proposed Drava-Mura Biosphere Reserve (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary). Some of them are already designated as transboundary Ramsar sites, while for other areas, Ramsar designation is still a target. An impressive report was presented on the development of a common environmental education and CEPA strategy by the National Parks Fertö-Hanság (Hungary) and Neusiedlersee & Seewinkel (Austria).

This conference came as an ideal preparation for the workshop on "shared catchments and wetlands - increasing transboundary cooperation" to be held as part of the European Ramsar Meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, on 5 December 2004. Its conclusions will provide a useful input for the debates and recommendations to be elaborated during the European Ramsar Meeting.

The conference at Illmitz was also the occasion of the launch of the new book "Moore in Oesterreich unter dem Schutz der Ramsar-Konvention" (Mires in Austria protected by the Ramsar Convention) published by the Federal Environment Agency.

The book makes reference to Ramsar's Guidelines for Global Action on Peatlands and the Austrian national peatland conservation strategy, besides presenting extensively a number of Austrian peatland Ramsar sites: Hörfeld-Moor, Pürgschachen Moor, Rheindelta, Rotmoos im Fuschertal, Sablatnigmoor, Waldviertel ponds, peat bogs and floodplains. It is already the fifth volume in the Agency's series on Austrian Ramsar sites, soon to be followed by a volume on the Lafnitztal.

The international conference on transboundary Ramsar sites took place in the modern infocentre of the Austrian National Park at Illmitz, a building making use of solar energy in different ways.

This is explained by Bernhard Kohler, from the WWF wetland education centre at Seewinkel, to Saulius Svazas, coordinator of the programme on transboundary Ramsar sites between Lithuania, Belarus and Kaliningrad.

Bernhard Kohler explains to Andris Urtans (Northern Bogs RS in Latvia), Thymio Papayannis (Prespa Park RS in Greece) and Anneli Roosalu (Nigula Bog RS in Estonia) the functioning of the temporary alcaline flats "Lacken" in the neighbourhood of the steppe lake.

Lake Neusiedl/Fertö is surrounded by large reedbeds and pasture lands.

The National Park is proud of its unique group of white donkeys, a very rare breed.

On slightly higher grounds, probably the best Austrian wines are grown - according to the locals. These grapes are only harvested after the first freezing nights in November.

-- Text and photos by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar