Ramsar, the UNESCO for wetlands?

Ramsar, the UNESCO for wetlands?

14 December 2012

When a journalist asked Jérôme Bignon, president of the Association Ramsar France, to explain in a few words what the Ramsar Convention is about, Mr Bignon replied: “Ramsar is the UNESCO for wetlands”. These words were said at a meeting that took place on 15-16 November 2012 in the Brenne Regional Nature Park and Ramsar Site in central France. It was the fourth annual seminar bringing together more than 100 Ramsar actors (site managers, civil servants, elected people, experts, NGOs and civil society representatives) to exchange their experiences and debate new approaches to wetland conservation in France.

From left: François Mignet (director of Brenne Ramsar Site and Regional Nature Park), Michel Métais (director of BirdLife France LPO) and Jérôme Bignon (president of Association Ramsar France) exchange views at the edge of one of Brenne’s 1,000 fish ponds.

Based on the example of the national association in support of the management of World Heritage properties in France, the Association Ramsar France was formally launched at last year’s seminar, with the signature by the French Minister of Environment and the Ramsar Secretary General of its charter for the management of Ramsar Sites in France.

Thibault Michel, a staff member of the Brenne Regional Nature Park, displays the Ramsar logo on his uniform and explains the problems of invasive Louisiana crayfish (Procambarus clarkii).

One year later, the Association was able to report on the start of its innovative work (see http://www.zones-humides.eaufrance.fr/?q=node/2327 ) and to sign with the Ministry of Environment and the managing body of France’s first Ramsar Site, the Camargue Regional Nature Park, a specific charter that provides an operational ten-year framework for the management, monitoring, zoning, cooperation and partnership development in this outstanding wetland ecosystem.

The seminar in the Brenne focused on the exchange of know-how and experience between Ramsar Sites and how to promote the sustainable development approaches elaborated by the Ramsar Convention for water catchment basins and related ecosystems. It was also an opportunity to provide a first-hand review on Ramsar’s COP11 in July 2012 to the French wetland constituency and to reflect on why to focus on Ramsar? The answer given was that we should use Ramsar to prepare the future we want, i.e. to better integrate and implement our activities in a coherent way across different sectors (making reference to the Rio+20 report adopted by the UN General Assembly through Resolution 66.288). Ramsar’s “vision 40+” was briefly presented and the need to take ecosystem and biodiversity values into account - also non-marketable values - was evoked. And indeed, with the UNESCO seat very visibly established in Paris, comparing the Ramsar Convention with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization does make sense to the French public. Something that is also valid beyond France, because the Ramsar Parties are recognizing the interdependence of mankind and its environment, are considering the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands as regulators of water regimes and as habitats supporting a characteristic flora and fauna, and are convinced that wetlands constitute a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value - as stated with these words in the preamble to the Convention.

A water level regulation sluice, locally named “bonde” (integrated in the Park logo), at Bellebouche tourist lake and fish pond.

Two most inspiring French tools for Ramsar promotion and to improve wetland conservation, that can easily be transferred and adapted to other countries are the five French wetland resource centres (“pôles-relais”) providing information and technical support for any question related to the management of coastal wetlands, inland wetlands, small ponds and river valleys, peatlands and wetlands in French overseas territories, and the national coordination of World Wetland Day activities in France, aiming to have in February 2013 more than 500 local events happening (see web link here), i.e. to set a new record (475 activities were carried out in 2012). The Association Ramsar France is playing an increasing role in coordinating these and many other activities.

And the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy just published a status report on the evolution of wetland ecosystems under increasing pressures in France between 2000 and 2010, see web link here. National policy development is further supported by the establishment of a joint information resource centre for water and water-related ecosystems www.documentation.eaufrance.fr that goes a long way to bridge possibly remaining gaps between the approaches of water and wetland managers.

Seminar participants watched the annual autumn fish catch at Sous fish pond. The Brenne is widely known for the quality of its commercial fish production, as well as for the hunting and nature tourism opportunities these man-made ponds provide.

The seminar sessions and meals, including a tasting of wetland products from all over France, took place in two wetland tourist resorts inside the Ramsar Site, i.e. in the public Bellebouche holiday village and in the private Tranchemule rural domain. Really remarkable was the invitation of Ramsar Site managers from three Croatian Ramsar Sites (Kopacki Rit, Lonjsko Polje, Neretva Delta), by the French Embassy in Zagreb, to participate in the seminar and to present their experience to their French counterparts. With these activities and exchanges, the French Ramsar community is growing fast, and the Association Ramsar France will become a partner to be counted upon. An inspiring example for many other Ramsar Parties.

Panel discussion on the future of wetland-related agriculture, forestry and hunting activities with representatives from the Association Ramsar France, Environment and Agricultural Ministries, Brenne Regional Nature Park, French Parliament, local municipalities.

Report by Tobias Salathé, Seniro Regional Advisor for Europe. Photos by J. Shahinian and T. Salathé.