Today it’s World Wetlands Day, an event that celebrates a landmark in wetland conservation. The Ramsar Convention was agreed in the Iranian town of Ramsar on 2 February 1971.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especial as Waterfowl Habitat (to give it its full name) has put wetland conservation on the global stage and brought commitments from Government’s around the world to protect wetlands and wetland systems. It developed the concept of wise use and has been hugely influential in promoting the protection of wetlands.
So has it worked? What is certain is that without it the picture for wetlands worldwide would be bleak indeed. It has driven the direct protection of many wetlands and been influential in the development of legal systems that have been more or less effective.
But here we are just two weeks from the start of a public inquiry into the expansion of Lydd airport and its impact on Dungeness (which is a Ramsar site) we have threats on the Thames (I’ll come back to the Thames in a minute), the Humber, the Mersey, Severn and the Wash.
On the other side of the world the destruction of coastal wetlands is extreme. The loss of wetlands like Saemangeum in South Korea is happening in the face of much opposition – the consequences the destruction sites like this will be profound both to coastal communities and the ‘waterfowl’ that was put at the heart of the Ramsar Convention. Spoon-billed sandpipers are being brought to the edge of extinction mainly because of the loss of the wetlands they need to complete their migrations.
So happy birthday Ramsar – your work is not done.
I said I’d come back to the Thames. Every few weeks there is a flurry of press interest in one or other version of a proposal to plonk a major airport in the Thames. This is not new. Back in the 1960s the first proposal for an airport in the Thames forced a recognition that we simply didn’t have the facts and figures to mount an effective argument. The proposal then fell because it was economically bonkers, but it lead directly to the setting up of monitoring through the Birds of Estuaries Enquiry which now is continued through the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBs). Making birds count fed directly into the Ramsar Convention – and forty years on, we’re still arguing the case against bonkers airport proposals. But things are different, the Thames is better protected, we have good data and the vital involvement of communities like the Friends of North Kent Marshes.
I’d like to finish by paying tribute to the army of volunteers who month in and month out count our waders and wildfowl on wetlands across the UK. The WeBs counters are the unsung heroes of wetland conservation and their role will need more now than ever.
And if you fancy seeing what all the fuss was about - why not visit a wetland nature reserve?
If you can help us to continue to protect and restore the peatlands of the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland - you can read more about our appeal here.
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The Peak District National Park is a place where landscapes, wildlife and our relationship to the natural world entwine – perhaps more than anywhere else. Our love of the moors and rocky edges, the open spaces and the call of the curlew carrying on the wild wind brings millions of us to ‘the Peak’ again and again (it’s one of the most visited national parks in the world).
And, today, the story moves on. For the first time we are going to be managing a piece of land together with the National Trust. Well, I say a piece of land, it’s a description that barely does the 27 square km Eastern Moors justice! It’s the first time we’ve done this – and the joint project is very exciting (the combined membership of the two organisations is over 4.6 million).
The ownership of the Eastern Moors stays exactly where it is now – with the Peak District National Park but will now be managed by the Eastern Moors Partnership set up by our two charities.
So if you aren’t familiar with the Eastern Moors, they fringe the city of Sheffield and are made up of five separate moors; Clod Hall, Leash Fen, Ramsley, Big Moor and Totley Moss. The area also includes the popular walking and climbing areas of Curbar, Froggatt and Birchen Edges. There’s also 300 ha of broad-leaved woodland.
The Eastern Moors Partnership will continue to restore internationally important habitats in particular blanket bog (the unflattering name for the peat that cloaks the hills and sustains so much of the upland wildlife. Increasing wildlife, including curlews and water voles will run alongside improving access for the hundreds of thousands of people who already visit the area
The scale and vision of this joint project is significant as is the joint NT/RSPB project – another historic first chalked up for the Peak Park!
Here’s what the leaders of the three organisations that have put this partnership together have to say:
Fiona Reynolds, National Trust Director General says: “The Eastern Moors is an area of extraordinary natural beauty and an incredibly important habitat for wildlife. I am delighted that the National Trust and the RSPB are working together to provide some opportunities for people to enjoy this area of countryside and get closer to nature, whether they are climbers, mountain bikers, walkers or simply in need of some spiritual refreshment.”
Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, says: “People are very proud of the Eastern Moors and rightly so. It’s got it all; it’s a stunning site which offers a great day out for all kinds of visitors and is home to incredible wildlife.
“The Eastern Moors Partnership will be working hard to enhance the current experience that visitors have and will provide new ways for people to enjoy the site. At the same time, we will develop a land management model which will be an example of how uplands can be managed in the future for people and wildlife.
“We are planning significant work in the woodlands, enhancing them to become rich and diverse places and increasing their value to wildlife. Practical works will include felling small areas to create open space, restarting natural tree regeneration, creating rotting timber on the ground as habitat for fungi and insects, and, of course, tree planting to increase the diversity of trees there.”
Jim Dixon, Chief Executive of Peak District National Park Authority, says: “We want the Eastern Moors to remain a superb resource for both wildlife and people, and that’s why I’m pleased that the Authority is entering this unique management partnership with the National Trust and RSPB. We hope that their national strength, working in harness with local communities, can develop the Eastern Moors to their full potential for biodiversity, access, landscape protection and carbon stewardship.”
The Eastern Moors is a great place for wildlife – it’s one of the best places in the Peak Park for adders. As well as water voles, golden-ringed dragonflies can be found and there’s one of only two wild red deer herds in the Peak District. It’s one of those places where you can enjoy the panoramas and open spaces or spend time to explore the fascinating details. I remember, several years ago, visiting the Eastern Moors with colleagues when today’s announcement was a dream and we were framing our early thoughts. We were standing by the side of the road having a serious talk about the importance of peatlands for holding carbon and preventing it heading off into the atmosphere when nudging and pointing started around the edges of the group. We then spent the next few minutes looking at a colony of chimney sweeper moths on the verge. For me that is an essence of a special place, the big picture and intimate details in the same field of view.