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Bundesamt für Naturschutz

Wetland conservation under the Ramsar Convention

Wetlands are some of the most diverse and also most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Lakes and rivers, peatlands and marshes, coral reefs and mangrove forests are not only worth protecting as habitats for rare and threatened animal and plant species, they also provide vital ecosystem services for humans. When healthy, they supply fresh water and food, improve water quality, protect us from natural disasters such as floods and, as long-term carbon sinks, play a far greater role in protecting the climate than all other types of ecosystems.
Wetlands provide important feeding, resting and breeding places for diverse bird species
Wetlands provide important feeding, resting and breeding places for diverse bird species

Status of wetlands and associated threats

Since 1970, 35 percent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared. This is the alarming conclusion drawn by the Global Wetland Outlook, the global report on the status of wetlands. Natural wetlands are disappearing at an annual rate that is three times higher than that of natural forests . Also since 1970, 81 percent of animal and plant species reliant on freshwater wetlands have declined. The loss of wetlands and their biological diversity is largely driven by drainage and land-use change, extraction of water and other natural resources, infrastructure development, pollution by nutrients and contaminants, the spread of invasive alien species and the impacts of climate change.

Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly at the water's edge.
A four-spotted chaser dragonfly

The Ramsar Convention

The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) was adopted as an intergovernmental treaty on 2 February 1971 in the city of Ramsar in Iran. World Wetlands Day has been celebrated every year on that day since 1977. The Ramsar Convention focuses on the conservation and sustainable use (“wise use”) of wetlands. Other important aspects include communication and education on the importance of wetlands and intergovernmental cooperation. Designation of “Wetlands of international importance” , also known as Ramsar sites, is an instrument used by the Convention to recognise particularly important wetlands in its member states.

Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Germany

Germany became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention in 1976 and, with the designation of the Rosenheim Basin Bogs in 2021, now has a total of 35 Ramsar sites. BfN has assisted the implementation of the Ramsar Convention at both national and international level for many years. Among other things, BfN serves as the national focal point for the Convention’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) and the Ramsar Programme on Communication, Capacity Building, Education, Participation and Awareness (CEPA).

The Wadden Sea is a transboundary Ramsar Site
The Wadden Sea is a transboundary Ramsar Site

Conservation, rewetting and wise use of peatlands in Europe and around the world

Peatlands cover only about three percent of the Earth’s land area, yet they store almost twice as much carbon as all of the forests combined. Drained peatlands, on the other hand, emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases. The Ramsar Convention has emphasised the particular importance of peatlands for natural climate protection, for example with its resolution in 2018. BfN supports international peatland conservation activities conducted under the Ramsar Convention, notably by holding exchange and networking events. These include two international workshops in 2019, one on exploring synergies for peatlands and the other on peatland strategies in Europe.

The photo shows a palsa peatland with cotton grass and small open water bodies.
Living peatlands (mires) offer diverse ecosystem services

Riverine floodplains and coastal wetlands for biodiversity and the climate

Alongside peatlands, riverine floodplains and coastal wetlands can play an important role in natural climate protection and in adapting to the effects of climate change. They also provide valuable habitats for a wide range of animal and plant species. This is why riverine and coastal wetlands were selected as the focus for the European Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change in 2023. In cooperation with the Network of European Nature Conservation Agencies (ENCA), it is the fifth successive conference that BfN has organised since 2011 to promote exchange and networking between European experts from science, policymaking and practice.

Conference banner of the 5th European Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change: Riverine and Coastal Wetlands, taking place on September 26-28 in Bonn, Germany
Conference banner

Using remote sensing for wetland management in Africa

In close cooperation with Ramsar Convention stakeholders in Africa, BfN has supported the use of remote sensing for wetland management. For example, managers can use freely accessible satellite data to classify wetlands, map land-use changes, assess risks and trends, and improve both planning and communication of the measures needed. Together with African experts, and as part of a BfN-supported project, a consultation and capacity development workshop was held and an English-language manual was also compiled.

Satellite image of a dynamic coastal landscape.
Sentinel-2 satellite image of the Northwest coast of Madagascar and the Mahavavy-Kinkony Reserve
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