World Wetlands Day and Wetland Bird Survey

I would like to draw the attention of GNS members and those visiting the GNS website to two related issues, both close to my heart. The first is World Wetlands Day which is recognised worldwide, and marks the anniversary of the approval of the text of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.  The Convention is the first of the modern conservation conventions; it is an intergovernmental treaty by which states designate wetlands in their territory for the Ramsar “List of Wetlands of International importance”, and promise to make “wise use” of all wetlands in their territory, whether or not they are included in the List.  Currently 168 countries have joined the Convention, listing 2,171 wetlands (covering over 207 million hectares) for the Ramsar List. Worlds Wetlands Day is an opportunity to give greater publicity to the work of the Convention, and to the value of wetlands for biodiversity, flood control, water supply and quality, carbon storage, agriculture and fisheries, and support for human livelihoods. Much of the early work on the Convention was carried out in Gloucestershire by the International Waterbird and Wetlands Research Bureau, then based at Slimbridge (nowadays with headquarters in the Netherlands and known as “Wetlands International”). The Convention Secretariat is housed with IUCN in Gland, Switzerland. Ramsar is close to my heart, as I worked for some 25 years with the Convention, first in Slimbridge, later in Gland.

To coincide with World Wetlands Day, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is publishing its report for winter 2011/12 on the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). WeBS is a series of monthly counts of water birds, which aims to monitor the numbers of waterbirds (among them swans, geese, ducks, waders and herons) which visit the UK in winter; the counts continue through spring, summer and autumn, mainly on coasts and shorelines, where numbers of passing migrant waterbirds (particularly waders) are monitored. These counts began in UK in the 1940s and now extend worldwide; they form one of the bases for judging whether a wetland qualifies as a possible Ramsar site. Within Gloucestershire (where I am the WeBS Local Organiser), counts are carried out on the Severn Estuary (both in the Frampton/Slimbridge area, and between Lydney and Chepstow), at inland sites in the Severn Vale (such as Walmore Common, Ashleworth Ham and Coombe Hill Meadows) and at sites on the Cotswolds, in particular the Cotswold Water Park. These counts are made by volunteer bird-watchers who submit their data to the BTO, and the annual report presents a picture of the numbers of water birds occurring in a previous winter, with comments on increases, decreases or particularly interesting observations.  Anyone who would like to join in the counting operations is cordially invited to contact me. The BTO website provides a good deal of extra information about WeBS counts, including new features giving details of the status of waterbirds, and access to historical data. Do take a look!

Link to Ramsar Convention on Wetlands website

Posted on behalf of Mike Smart
Hon Chairman, GNS
Revised 30/01/2014

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