Austria hosts international conference on transboundary Ramsar sites

Fri, 19/11/2004

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 (attached) will provide a useful input for the debates and recommendations to be elaborated during the European Ramsar Meeting.