Annual meeting of the Austrian Ramsar Committee
The annual meeting of the Austrian Ramsar Committee was held on 12-13 June 1997 in Fusch, Province of Salzburg, near the Ramsar site of Rotmoos ("Red Bog"). Fusch is situtated very near to the Hohe Tauern National Park, which covers the highest montain areas in the Austrian Alps (including Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria at over 3900 metres), and stretches over the territory of three provinces, Salzburg, Kärnten (Carinthia) and Tirol. After the meeting, participants visited Rotmoos, one of the larger high mountain bogs in Austria, part of which is in a natural state and of special botanical interest, and part of which is for grazing high mountain cattle in the summer months.
The meeting was held at the invitation of the Province of Salzburg, whose Landrat (provincial minister) for Environment hosted a reception, also attended by the Mayor of Fusch and the director of the National Park. The meeting was attended by representatives of six of the nine Austrian provinces, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Environment (the Austrian Administrative Authority for Ramsar), the Federal Environment Office (Umweltbundesamt), BirdLife International (Austria) and the Ramsar Bureau. The Federal Ministry representative expressed special appreciation of the attendance by the Ramsar Secretary General at the Conference on "International Nature Conservation" held in May in Vienna.
The agenda included a review of the status of the nine Austrian Ramsar sites, many of which are receiving financial support for management measures from the European Commission's LIFE programme.
After many years of discussion, the Donau-Auen (Danube Riverine Forest) National Park was established in November 1996, covering an area of 9300 hectares in the provinces of Vienna and Lower Austria. This is part of the larger Ramsar site of Donau-March-Auen, and one in which the Ramsar Convention was closely involved in the 1980s when there were plans - now definitively shelved - to dam the river in this area. An exciting new restoration project is being developed to return water to some of the ox-bows in the Danube below Vienna, because it is recognized that these areas, now cut off from the main stream of the river, serve a valuable role in stocking water at times of high flood, thus preventing flooding and the need to build ever higher banks along the river.
At the other part of the Donau-March-Auen Ramsar site on the River March, a meadow restoration programme is going ahead, as suggested by a Ramsar Managment Guidance Procedure mission in 1991, with funding from LIFE. This site is currently included on the Montreux Record because of the impact of agricultural drainage and expansion measures -- it is suggested that a further Ramsar mission should visit the site when the LIFE project is nearing completion in 1998, to advise on whether the site might then be removed from the Montreux Record.
At the Rhine Delta Ramsar site in Vorarlberg, where the Rhine flows into Lake Constance, concern was expressed - as at the previous year's meeting in Steiermark (Styria) - about effects on fauna and flora of the drop in groundwater level. In response to this concern it is proposed that the Styrian Chairman of the Austrian Ramsar Committee should visit the site in the company of representatives of the Vorarlberg province in July. The Ramsar Bureau has been invited to take part in this visit.
Plans are now well advanced between the provinces of Burgenland and Steiermark (Styria) for the establishment of a new Ramsar site in the valley of the River Lafnitz, one of the last partially unregulated rivers in Austria, where water engineers value the site for its function in flood control, and where typical fauna and flora survive in near natural conditions.
The meeting also made progress towards development of a national wetland strategy for Austria. Austria's federal constitution places responsibility for land use planning and nature conservation with the provinces, so that their role in developing and implementing such a plan is crucial. The Federal Environment Office, in addition to its series of excellent detailed monographs on individual Ramsar sites, has published (in German, with English summary) an "Austrian Ramsar Plan" which identifies possible future Ramsar sites as well as wetlands of national importance.
The meeting learnt that, as a result of a presentation at last year's meeting by the Bureau's African Regional Coordinator, Tom Kabii, funds will be made available for a study in Kenya of wintering areas of White Stork, a species of special interest to Austria. The study will identify key sites for stork conservation in Kenya. Fifty percent of the funds will be provided by Styria, fifty percent by the Federal Ministry of Environment. It is hoped that this project will lead to twinning between Austrian and African Ramsar sites, to exchanges of information and personnel, to support for conservation measures on the ground in Africa, and to other similar projects, supported by other Austrian provinces.
-- reported by M. Smart, 20 June 1997