Wetlands and Ramsar


Naturally functioning wetlands provide a range of benefits and services for people's livelihoods and well-being, including food, fibre, flood protection, water purification and support for cultural values, as well as water supply.

Wetlands are extremely rich in biodiversity: waterbirds such as herons, egrets, swans, ducks and geese, and waders use wetlands during the majority of their lifetime. At least 12% of all Globally Threatened Birds, (146 species) depend on wetlands. The most important types of wetlands for these birds are lakes and pools, rivers and streams, bogs, marshes and swamps, and coastal lagoons. Wetlands make up a high percentage of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) mainly due to their importance for large congregations of waterbirds.

However, these wetlands are often extremely vulnerable. The use of water and over extraction from natural water systems by people has strongly affected almost all wetlands on Earth. Such human impacts include: the construction of dams which changes the course and ecology of rivers; pollution events; water-extraction; and development and tourism activities.  These threaten the biodiversity of lakes; fens, mires and bogs are being exploited industrially at unsustainable levels or converted into agricultural land.  Additionally, climate change has large implications for many wetland areas.

The policy and advocacy work undertaken by BirdLife on wetland issues aims to minimise impacts on these important systems and seeks full recognition of the wide ranging benefits and services that wetlands provide for people.


About the Ramsar Convention

The Ramsar Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development”.

Parties designate wetlands that meet Ramsar criteria for inclusion in the list of "Wetlands of International Importance" and to promote the conservation and wise use of all wetlands in their territory. This also means that the Convention is concerned not just with isolated sites, but the management of the entire catchment of river-basins.

As of December 2012, 2,062 Ramsar Sites, totalling 197.2 million hectares, have been designated and should therefore be effectively managed.

In recent years, Ramsar has been active in a very broad range of policy and technical areas, encompassing everything from groundwater modelling to sustainable fisheries, climate change, disaster mitigation, economic incentives and indigenous culture.  


How BirdLife is contributing to the work of the Ramsar Convention

BirdLife has strong and long-standing links with Ramsar. Resolution VII.3 (1999), confirmed and strengthened this link in the formal status of  BirdLife as one of five International Organisation Partners of the Convention. Many wetland Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are current or potential ‘Ramsar sites’.

BirdLife has been working with the Ramsar Convention from its early days, and is one of the Ramsar "International Organisation Partners" which work closely with the decision-making bodies of the Convention. BirdLife makes crucial contributions to the development of the Convention and regularly attends and actively contributes to the Conferences of the Parties, the meetings of Ramsar's Standing Committee, as well as Ramsar regional meetings. BirdLife is a key member of the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel, and has led a number of areas of its work.

The Ramsar Convention has become one of the most important global mechanisms for BirdLife Partners in their national work.  Many Partners have contributed to the designation of IBAs as "Wetlands of International Importance" in their countries. A number of Partners contribute significantly to the objectives of the Convention through wetland monitoring, awareness raising, capacity building, research, and developing and implementing national policy and legislation, through participation in National Wetland Committees and in the development of national wetland policies.

In 2011, the BirdLife and Ramsar Secretariats renewed and refreshed their Memorandum of Cooperation, with a strong emphasis on linkages at the regional and national level. The Memorandum provides an ideal basis for growing and consolidating constructive co-operation between national Governments and BirdLife Partners.


Policy positions, briefs and meeting reports

BirdLife advocates for strong resolutions under the Convention and produces policy briefs ahead of major meetings. BirdLife also regularly profiles important wetland sites under immediate threat and urges governments to fulfil their commitments under the Convention to address negative impacts.

Ramsar COP 11 took place in July 2012 in Bucharest. Twenty-one resolutions were adopted by Parties at the meeting, which focused strongly on many of the challenging sustainable development issues facing the world now, including poverty, health, climate, the energy sector and responsible investment.

At that meeting BirdLife highlighted the threats to key wetlands from ill considered "development" that focuses only on short term benefits. This included the launch of an IUCN Situation Analysis, warning of the imminent extinctions of species (notably migratory shorebirds) and collapse of crucial ecological services in East and South-east Asian tidal flats, especially around the Yellow Sea. Rapid reclamation is causing the disappearance of these habitats, which provide crucial refuelling sites for waterbirds on migration and crucial ecological infrastructure for people.

BirdLife also voiced concerns about the Bay of Panama wetlands. This Ramsar site is the most important staging area for migratory shorebirds in the entire Americas, with  mangrove forests that play a vital role in supporting fisheries and protecting Panama City from floods. With its Protected Area status recently suspended for technical legal reasons, and controls on mangrove cutting and in-fill relaxed, survival of the Bay of Panama wetlands is now a test case for the effectiveness of the Ramsar Convention.

BirdLife also provided updates on development threats to three key East African wetlands and IBAs: Lake Natron in Tanzania; Lake Naivasha in Kenya and the Tana River Delta, also in Kenya.


Documents and briefings


Ramsar 40th anniversary brochure 

Important Bird Areas and potential Ramsar Sites in Europe

Important Bird Areas and potential Ramsar Sites in Asia: Part 1 and Part 2

Important Bird Areas and potential Ramsar Sites in Africa

BirdLife’s assessment of Ramsar COP 11, July 2012. Wise decision for Wetlands?

Ramsar COP11 concludes on a high – but key wetlands still threatened