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Meeting report of regional technical seminar
National strategies and policies for wetlands
Beirut, Lebanon, 16-18 February 2004
Thursday 18 March 2004, by Web Team

5. Session 1: Preparing National Wetland Policies/Strategies - guidelines and country case studies

Ms. Lina Yamout opened the meeting by welcoming the Palestinian delegate who arrived last night. She also recalled of the purpose of this seminar, reminding the participants of the opportunity to learn from other experiences and mobilize efforts towards national policy making.

5.1 Introduction

Mr. Pere TOMÀS restated the specific objectives of the seminar, i.e. presentation of the Ramsar guidelines (resolution VII6), review of existing national wetland strategies in the Mediterranean countries, review of the status of national wetlands policies in the MWC countries, and contribution to establishing the basis for developing and/or strengthening national wetland policies/strategies in MWC countries.

According to COP8 report, 9 Mediterranean countries have developed a national plan/strategy: Portugal, Spain, France, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Israel. The terminology differs from one country to another, the difference may be in the nature of the document and its scope.

He spelled out the organization of the various sessions of this seminar. The first session is about the development of the strategy and the second session about the implementation of the strategy. He introduced the agenda and the speakers of these two sessions, pointing out that, in the elaboration of the strategy, countries have followed the Ramsar guidelines, Turkey benefiting from the recently revised guidelines. He further outlined the elements central to preparing national wetland policies and strategies, namely:

- Institutional and admin context regarding wetland conservation
- Legal framework of the wetland plan
- Strategic framework of the plan: water strategy, bio strategy, etc.
- Institutions involved in the preparation of the plan
- Mechanisms for consultation
- Budget level for the preparation
- Timetable
- General description of the contents
- Strengths and weaknesses of the preparation process
- Recommendations/lessons learned

His presentation is attached as annex 8

5.2 Guidelines from the Ramsar Convention. Part I: concepts, framework and development of the strategy

Mr. Tobias Salathe introduced the subject by referring to the guidelines published as Ramsar Handbook No 2 in 2000 after COP7 in Costa Rica. The document was initially prepared by a working group involving representatives of some 20 countries; thus various national experiences and views were introduced in that document. The guidelines are not constraining and prescriptive but rather suggestive, a guide book to pick and choose and get inspired. A second version of this document is currently being prepared and will be published on CD Rom; the content will remain the same and is based on Resolution VII.6 adopted in Costa Rica.

He reminded of the signing of the Ramsar Convention in 1971; including 138 contracting parties today. The convention text is mainly general, in the form of a framework agreement: 1) each country should use its wetland in a wise way, 2) wetlands of international importance should be designated, and 3) international cooperation should prevail.

With regards to policy making, he referred to a number of sections in the text of the convention, in particular the preamble of the convention which stipulates that the contracting parties are "confident that the conservation of wetlands and their flora and fauna can be ensured by combining far-sighted national policies with coordinated international action". Article 3.1 reiterates the need of contracting parties to "formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List [i.e. Ramsar Sites] and as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory." Over the years, the text of the convention has been further developed through many COP Recommendations and Resolutions with specific guidelines and further guidance attached. Since COP6 (1996 in Brisbane, Australia), the convention has adopted a strategic plan to guide its implementation. Among the operational objectives, of the current Strategic Plan (2003-2008) objective 2.1 asks to "specify the most appropriate policy instruments to ensure wise use of wetlands" and 2.2 the countries should "develop, review, amend when necessary and implement policies, legislation, institutions and practices".

He then pursed by reminding of the need for wetlands policies:
- wetlands are seldom explicitly covered in national policies: it was thus felt useful to develop a specific wetland policy.
- Where wetlands policies are components of other environmental policies, the wetland message can become diffused and overpowered.
- A stand-alone wetland policy articulates clear goals and responsibilities.

He underscored the nature of a wetlands policy/strategy. Some countries have adopted sub-regional policies for wetlands (eg in the Biodiversity Strategy), there are also examples of supra-national policies/strategy (eg the MedWet initiative). During this seminar, the focus though will be on what would be most helpful at the national level. He stated that a policy/strategy is a framework that enables conclusions to be drawn. That framework would have to reflect attitudes, express desired principles and state intentions; it should show alternative choices, clarify these, identify strategic directions, make commitments, provide focus and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different actors.

He made a brief note of the relationship between policy and wise use. Wise use is a concept that operates at all levels while a national policy is one tool proposed in the spectrum of actions for wise use (Recommendation 4.10 and Resolution V.6).

A strategy should therefore be a reference document available to all and relevant/clear to all. He recommended that the organization of the policy document could be broken down into 3 main sections: 1. Goals and principles,
2. Specification of the objectives of a national policy (e.g. our policy wants to achieve no further wetland loss, restoration of former wetlands, maintenance of current state, improvement of this or this aspect, etc.),
3. Show clear measurable and concrete activities; the time period could also be mentioned and a monitoring plan described.

The Ramsar guidance document has an annex which illustrates 8 priorities for establishment of wetland policies: The strategy should: 1. define common objectives that all sectors will agree on;
2. think of coordinated actions, cooperation between government agencies and other stakeholders;
3. recognize the role and efforts of local community;
4. not be sectoral but embody the will and mandate to coordinate different government programmes;
5. have a clear statement about what would be the proper management of protected wetlands;
6. identify the remaining gaps in knowledge;
7. improve public awareness; and,
8. ensure the delivery of international commitments.

At the level of specific activities to be addressed in a strategy, he suggested a number of priority actions:
- institutional arrangements: what institutions are in place, which ones should be strengthened and empowered?;
- legal instruments: proposals for new laws or adjustments to the laws;
- increase knowledge and awareness: the benefit of such a strategy should be known, the status of the wetlands in the country should be known; and,
- address the specific problems at particular sites.

He pointed out that the strategy should be the framework tool that puts the pieces together and translate the commitment of the government.

He concluded by outlining a few steps that need to be taken for developing the strategy:

1. preparation by a lead agency;
2. establishing a national wetland committee, with representation of major stakeholders;
3. reaching, at an early stage, a common vision/statement of the goals;
4. identifying, at an early stage, the stakeholders and the sectoral interests, and mobilizing them to participate in the process;
5. scheduling stakeholder workshops, as a helpful tool in the process;
6. establishing a writing team;
7. ensuring political support from an early beginning; and,
8. undertaking, at a later stage and in the finalization phase, a formal process to secure cabinet or government approval and official announcement.

He concluded by inviting the participants to further refer to the Ramsar guidelines document.

His presentation is attached as annex 9

5.3 Spain: Preparation of the strategic Plan for the protection and sustainable use of wetlands (1999)

Mr. José Ramón Picatoste, from the General Direction of Nature Conservation (DGCN), Environment Ministry, commenced by explaining the distribution of competence and responsibility in Spain, underscoring the high degree of decentralization on nature conservation competences in the 17 Spanish regions. The Central Government acts as a coordination body for the work of all the regions towards implementing the basic framework for nature protection and the international commitments. In the case of the wetland strategy, the role of the Central Government was one of coordinating the work of the 17 regions throughout the elaboration process and thereafter of promoting the implementation of the strategies. The final responsibility for implementation is with the regions. He informed of the relevant legal and strategic instruments in place, both at the national and European level (Bird and Habitat directive and the Natura 2000 network), and the national government structures concerned with nature protection in Spain, in particular the National Wetlands Committee. He explained that some of the regions have stricter regulations while others have adopted the national standards and recommendations.

The Spanish Strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity adopted in 1998 is the Spanish response of the Biodiversity Convention requirement. Also he pointed out that, in Spain, the process to develop the wetlands strategy is similar as the one followed for the biodiversity strategy and he spelled out the different steps of that process. A lead team, composed of 4 experts, worked over a 2-year period with a budget of 120,000 Euro.

He outlined the guiding principles and the conservation instruments introduced in the document. The strategic plan is organized around 10 general objectives implemented via operational objectives and some 178 actions (general actions, local actions, sector policy actions).

He highlighted the strong points of the process undertaken in Spain, in particular the strong technical background of the team elaborating the document and the high coherence with the Ramsar Strategy 1997-2002. On the other hand, he pointed out that the lack of strong final legal support and cabinet approval is a weakness.

His presentation is attached as annex 10

5.4 France: Preparation of the National Action Plan for wetlands (1995)

Ms. Marie Odile Guth, general inspector of the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development of France and coordinator of the national French action plan for wetlands, highlighted that wetlands represent 1,7 millions hectares or 3% of the French territory. Some 30 areas are recognized under the EU Habitat directive. She pointed out that the French territory has a high representation of various wetlands ecosystems and types.

She recalled the history behind the preparation of the action plan. Prefet Bernard was asked to carry out an assessment of the national wetlands policy in France - what is now referred to as the Prefet Bernard Commission and report. This assessment highlighted a rather negative picture of the situation but allowed the development of a process for launching a national consultation around wetlands.

Working from 1992 to 1994, the commission reported of a continuous regression of the wetland area (65% lost since the beginning of the 20th century) and recorded the causes, in particular: the sectoral management of water, abhazard urban development, sectoral public policies with negative impacts on these ecosystems - draining, agricultural intensification -, external aggressions such as pollution, and fiscal policy. The report allowed to bring attention to the functions of the wetlands, in particular insofar as flood prevention, underground water recharge. In that context, she pointed out that during the recent floods in France (November 2003), sadly few have reminded of the role of wetlands in regulating floods. She also pointed out that the functions of wetlands are increasingly recognized with regards to their contribution to tourism development and to the economy (saline work, animal production, agricultural production, hunting and fishing). Finally she explained that the cultural and landscape value of the wetlands are starting to be recognized as well.

These functions and values having been recognized by the Commission, a process was launched to elaborate a national action plan. She pointed out that France, though signing the Ramsar convention in 71, did not ratify it until 1986. Also, in the French law, it is only in 1992 that wetlands were specifically defined.

There are 22 Ramsar sites in France. France has, since 2000, a code of the environment, both in terms of law and secondary laws, and the definition of wetlands is registered in the code. She underlined the difficulty that they faced in agreeing on a definition.

Within the framework of this plan, a great number of legal tools are available, in particular:
- international agreements : Ramsar, World Heritage Sites, MAP, Bonn et Berne convention, bird and habitat directive ;
- Protected area designation in France: Reserves naturelles, protected sites, national hunting reserves - both terrestrial and maritime
- various sub-national regulatory instruments : ’schemas directeurs d’amenagements et de gestion des eaux’ of the 6 basin/watershed management areas in France, the ’schema d’amenagement et de gestion des eaux’ at the local level, the local urban plans, the coastal area law / loi littoral, and the mountain law / ’loi montagne’.

She informed of the institutions that are in charged of protecting wetlands:
- the Conservatoires du littoral, which, through their policy of land acquisition, purchase a number of sites, thereafter entrusting their management to local authorities or NGOs.
- the Conservatoires regionaux d’espaces naturels (CREN), often managed by NGOs
- the foundation for the protection of habitats - which is managed by the hunters association and which acquired land as well

She finally reported on the various measures and programmes that are in place and which somehow address wetlands management such as the measures agro-environmental and the LIFE programmes.

In 1995 a plan was approved by Cabinet. It identifies 4 objectives:
1. stop the degradation
2. ensure sound and wise management
3. encourage restoration of habitats
4. reclaim wetlands of high value

These were translated into 4 priority axes and a number of corresponding practical actions:
1. inventory of wetlands and Monitoring & Evaluation tools - in particular she quoted the implementation of some 20 research projects from 96 to 2001;
2. ensure the coherence of the public policies - she mentioned, as example, the support to extensive stock breeding, and to agricultural certification;
3. reclamation of wetlands - she explained that 8 pilot areas have been selected for multi-annual efforts (these include the Camargue and Marais Poitevin) and that two trust funds were set up: the ’Fond National de Solidarite sur l’eau’ and the ’Fond de Gestion des Milieux Naturels’. She also reported of an example of reclamation in France Conte where the river has been returned to its original bed over a 20 km stretch (valley of the Drugeon) for 1,8 Million Euro
4. public awareness.

Her presentation is attached as annex 11

5.5 Turkey: Preparation of the national strategy for wetland (2003-2008)

Mr. Mehmet Golge, Environment and Forest Ministry of Turkey, introduced the background to the preparation of the strategy from the establishment of the wetlands division in 1992 to the approval of the National wetlands strategy 2003-2008 in 2003, the preparation of which started immediately after Ramsar COP7 and is based very closely upon the Ramsar strategy 2003-2008.

He then highlighted the process of preparation of the document, pointing out to the series of working group meetings. The draft was prepared by the Ministry of environment, then reconciled with the Ramsar strategic plan and then aligned to the national policies and principles. He particularly singled out the diversity of representatives in the working groups -ministries, NGOs, academics- and the progress from the first to the third meeting.

The strategy was approved by the National wetlands committee established in January 2002.

He presented the aim of the strategy and the four general objectives:
1. protection and wise use,
2. wetlands of international importance,
3. cooperation and
4. capacity.

These are translated into 12 operational objectives, each equipped with a number of activities.

His presentation is attached as annex 12

5.6 Plenary discussions

Mr. Habib Ben Moussa referred to horizontal strategies such as the Water Strategy, the Biodiversity strategy and he enquired about how to ensure coherence between those horizontal strategies, the sectoral strategies and wetlands strategy. Ms. Guth explained that, in France, there is close interaction between the Biodiversity strategy and the wetlands action plan and the principle of complementarity has been noted and acted in the documents. One needs to monitor now how, in the next few years, this interaction does materialize. She also added that France is now implementing a national sustainable development strategy approved in 2003 - this strategy will be integrated into the French constitution, which then ensures that the government is held fully responsible for integrating sustainable principles into all of the government’s policies. Mr. Jose explained that the biodiversity strategy will be implemented through sectoral plans, such as the tourism plan, the agricultural plan but also the wetlands plan. All of which will also be under the umbrella of the national strategy for sustainable development currently in development.

Mr. Pere Tomas asked about the calendar for the preparation of the wetland plan until approval. Ms. Guth pointed out that it took two years of study and analysis from 92 to 94 to produce an assessment of the situation, further to which the government has developed the plan and approved it in Cabinet in 1995. She further noted that, some 10 years after, it would be interesting to monitor the implementation of the Plan. In Turkey, the first phase was about 1 month and the second phase about 2 months. In Spain the whole process of elaboration was about 2 years. The document will be revised every ten years.

Mr. Hafid Chihab, cadre, Secretariat d’Etat a l’Environnement, Morocco, referred to the information facility set up by the Biodiversity Convention (Centre d’Information de la CBD) and queried whether it would be opportune to set up such a facility to facilitate exchange of information for the Ramsar convention. Mr. Salathe responded that a number of countries do benefit from the funds available for the biodiversity convention and the financing made available by GEF and the donors for biodiversity efforts. He further underscored that, if at all relevant to produce a wetlands strategy within the framework of the biodiversity strategy, it is indeed possible. Only, he cautioned to cross-check with the Ramsar strategy to ensure that the principles and elements are well addressed in the wetlands strategy. He also pointed out in that regard that France first prepared a wetland strategy and just now completed a biodiversity strategy. With regards to the set up of a clearing house for Ramsar, he agreed that the idea is relevant. He explained that there is a common Internet site (Ramsar, CITES, migratory species, CBD) which could be further worked on and developed; he also suggested that one could look at the MedWet facility to include such a clearing house. He underscored that the Ramsar Secretariat is probably the smallest and the poorest of the convention secretariats and has little resources available. He finally pointed out that the Ramsar Secretariat does put great attention to ensuring synergy with other conventions and cited the development and current implementation of the third Joint Work Plan between the CBD and Ramsar. In that context, he called upon the countries to ensure that synergy does prevail as well at the national level, so that the convention focal points/institutions do exchange capacity and expertise.

Mr. Hassan Falaki, Administrateur, Secretariat d’Etat charge de l’Environnement, Morocco, made three remarks: 1) he referred to the preparation of the strategy as recommended by Ramsar in particular insofar as the need that it be orchestrated by an independent organization, 2) he pointed out to the pressures from and the priorities towards development activities, in particular in the southern countries, and the need to factor this in the preparation of the wetland policy, and 3) he alluded to the mandatory status of the plan, its adoption by law. He pointed out that this process may, in the context of some of the countries, actually slow down the process of implementation. Mr. Salathe clarified that the guidelines do suggest to appoint a dedicated organization/institution to lead the preparation of the strategy, but the idea is not that it be an independent body, but a clearly identified body. On the other hand, and referring to the Spanish recommendation and the French decision, he indeed favored that the text be officially approved by the Government in order to secure the mobilization of the government. Finally, he concurred that the problem of resource constraints is real in all countries and encouraged the countries to identify the most cost effective way to produce the strategy. He confessed that the Ramsar convention, not being formally tied to the UN system, has not easy access to the big financial pots such as the GEF and the FFEM. Progress has been made but he asked for the support of the member countries to further link the Ramsar initiatives with the big financial pots. He concluded by pointing out that the Ramsar convention is probably the only convention that can ensure integration of environmental issues in all water-related aspects of the national plans.

Mr. Charbel Rizk emphasized the need to demonstrate the economic values of wetlands through practical demonstrative examples and enquired about efforts in that direction. Mr. Salathe explained that several studies have been conducted and referred to the Ramsar publication earlier cited, though pointing out that it may be too general. The economists are still working on the issue. He also recalled the specific MedWet project which produced 5 socio-economic case studies, copies of which are still available. He agreed that more needs to be done on that front. Mr. Kouvelis cautioned that the pricing of wetland values is very difficult and controversial. The definition of values has to be extremely relevant to the local stakeholders, also paying attention that the price tag does not raise expectations. Ms. Goyet further confirmed that the most recent economic analysis of wetland values do tend to focus on direct values only, sometimes indirect values as well, and that intrinsic and less tangible values remain difficult to assess and not so meaningful in practical terms. But she agreed that case studies carefully integrated within a participatory approach can bring benefits to the process of decision making.

Mr. Esam El Badry, MedWetCoast project manager, Egypt, emphasized the need for gender sensitivity, pointing out that women do have a specific role in wetlands. Spyros explained that, in the context of the next MedWet Centers meeting (Valencia, March 2003), a workshop is organized to discuss cultural values of wetlands. He also reminded that, through the Ramsar Strategic Plan and operational objective 6, there is specific reference to local people including youngsters and women. He confirmed that the various issues raised here do appear in the guidelines in various chapters.

Ms. Lina Yamout requested the speakers to please specify a bit more some of the lessons learned and main issues encountered in the process of elaborating wetland strategy. Mr. Golge emphasized that one of the main constraints was the sheer number of stakeholders participating in the meetings and therefore the difficulty in reaching agreements; this was addressed mostly through bilateral discussions before the meeting so that consensus can be reached at the meeting. In France, Ms. Guth highlighted that the most crucial difficulty is to ensure coherence among the sectoral policies and she cited the example of the highway built through the Marais Poitevin which was secured thanks to support from the Ministry of Equipment and the local authorities, thus leading to the down grading of the site from the Natura 2000 status. She cautioned that the development of a strategy does take time and that it is necessary to monitor the process after some time, eg 10 years.

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