Nordic and Baltic countries swing the NorBalWet Initiative into action
During a preparatory meeting in March 2005, the Ramsar administrative authorities of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and the regions around the Baltic Sea of the Russian Federation agreed to embark on a regional initiative, the Nordic-Baltic Wetlands Initiative(NorBalWet), under the Ramsar Convention, confirmed later that year in Resolution IX.7 (cf. www.ramsar.org/mtg/mtg_ nordic_ramsar_2005.htm). This intention was fast turned into action in 2006 with the help of two major events:
On 16-18 May 2006, Naturvärdsverket, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Ramsar authority, hosted a seminar to exchange experiences on practical restoration aspects of mires and wet forests, taking place at Hindås near Göteborg. The meeting provided about 30 wetland specialists, foresters, peatland experts and Ramsar site managers from seven Nordic and Baltic countries with the opportunity to exchange their experience with re-wettening formerly drained forests and mires, often key habitats for demanding boreal species. In addition, the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (www.ivl.se) presented the results of an experimental study on the respective climate impact (through carbon releases) of different post-treatment of former peat extraction areas.
During a field excursion, hands-on wetland restoration projects were visited. First a model project undertaken jointly by WWF Sweden and Sveaskog, Sweden's largest forest owner (www.sveaskog.se/upload/wwf_ sveaskog_www/html/index_eng.htm), to restore formerly drained mires and wet forests in the Gallåsen timber production area with its extensive spruce and pine plantations. Another experimental project concerns the restoration of wet forests bordering the Komosse Ramsar Site (N°1121), one of the most valuable peat bog complexes in northwestern Europe, executed by the Jönköping County administration. The abstracts of the seminar presentations on fen, mire and wet forest restorations in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Sweden can be found on the website of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.internat. naturvardsverket.se/documents/current/conferen/confdoc/vatmark/document.htm), thanks to the untiring efforts of Torsten Larsson and Ann Wahlström.
The seminar on mires and wet forests was followed on 5-8 September 2006 by a conference on the restoration of deltas, lakes and rivers, organized by the Dokka Delta National Wetlands Centre in affiliation with the Oppland County Governor and the Directorate for Nature Management, i.e. the Ramsar authority in Norway. More than 30 administrators at national and local level, local councilors, fisheries specialists, water managers, environmental scientists, policy advisers and Ramsar site managers gathered at the shores of lake Randsfjorden to exchange views on priorities and experiences with pilot projects for wetland and river restorations in Norway, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania and Latvia. A strong emphasis was put on biotope adjustments along watercourses (by the Norwegian water resources and energy administration, NVE), on enhancement of salmonid rivers (by the Irish Central Fisheries Board and the Norwegian association of hunters and anglers), and on river and flow rehabilitation after channelization and water abstraction for energy production.
During an excursion, the participants looked at different river basin management issues in the water catchment of lake Randsfjorden, mainly used for forestry, agriculture, dairy farming, hydro-electricity production and outdoor tourism. The mires, ponds and lakes of Ramsar Site Hynna (N°1191) in the upper Dokka river catchment play an important role in flood control. Further downstream, water abstraction for electricity production at the Dokksfløy dam leaves only a minimal flow entering the Dokkadelta Ramsar Site (N°1188), situated at the upper end of the 75km-long Randsfjorden reservoir lake. Reduced water and sediment flows and frequent lake water level changes contribute to substantial changes in the delta ecosystems of wet meadows and reedbeds, traditionally used for grazing, hay making, fishing, hunting and timber floating. At the same time, water flow of the parallel Etna river remained largely untouched, with the exception of some straitened and channelized parts in flat valley bottom areas, to gain land for agriculture. But the water resources and energy administration now has plans to reconnect the straight river channel again with its earlier cut-off oxbows. This is not without problems, as the channelized river has eroded its bed much deeper into the underground than the level of its old meanders.
Along the river banks, historical monuments are valued for tourist purposes, such as the old stone bridge at Lunde or the prehistorical rock carvings at Møllerstuefossen. Alastair Brown, the conference organizer of the Dokka Delta National Wetlands centre, also presented a number of his other wetland restoration projects currently in the pipeline, spanning from mires to river meanders. During a boat trip in the Dokkadelta Ramsar Site, the proposed construction area for the planned national Ramsar centre at the shores of Randsfjorden lake could be seen. This served as an illustration for the presentation made the day before by Wetland Link International (www.wli.org.uk) on the outreach and education potential of wetland centres.
These first "NorBalWet" meetings showed the usefulness of exchanging views and experiences across Nordic and Baltic countries. Jan-Petter Huberth-Hansen, Ramsar's focal point in Norway, brought it to the point: "working at regional level helps us to solve wetland issues at home". For 2007, two meetings are already planned: a specific workshop on the objectives and functions of wetland centres and a seminar in Estonia, focusing most probably on coastal wetlands. To this end, the Nordic-Baltic Wetlands Initiative is extremely thankful for continued interest and financial support by the Nordic Council of Ministers, through the programme of its working group on nature, open air and cultural environments (www.norden.org), and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism (more on www.efta.int). Increased regional cooperation on wetland and Ramsar site management issues is likely to create valuable synergies with the experts of the Nordic-Baltic section of the Europarc federation (www.dap.gov.lv) and of the project on wetlands, nature reserves and cultural landscapes for rural development in the Baltic Sea region (www.eurowetlands.org), co-financed by the European Union's Interreg IIIB fund.
-- Report and photos: Tobias Salathé,
Ramsar Senior Advisor for Europe
The coordination group of the Nordic-Baltic Wetlands Initiative meeting at Hindås, Sweden, on 15-16 May 2006, from left: Andrey Sirin (Russia), Gediminas Rascius (Lithuania), Ivita Nagle (Latvia), Jan-Petter Huberth-Hansen (Norway), Kai Kimmel (Estonia), Torsten Larsson and Ann Wahlström (both Sweden), Seppo Vuolanto and Tapio Lindholm (both Finland), Tobias Salathe (Ramsar Secretariat)
Participants in the seminar on the restoration of peatlands and wet forests examining the mire restoration area in the Gallåsen timber production forest region, a joint experimental project between WWF Sweden and Sveaskog timber company.
Johan Rove of Jönköping County explaining the need to block a drainage ditch at the margin of Sweden’s impressive Komosse mire Ramsar Site (N°1121).
Alastair Brown of the Randsfjorden Museum explaining the cultural heritage of 6000-year old petroglyphs carved on the rocks of Etna river by ancient elk hunters. Listening are the participants of the conference on river restoration at Randsfjorden lake in Norway, on 7 September 2006.
Further downstream, the evening sun shines on the sedge beds of the Dokkadelta Ramsar Site (N°1188).