The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention

Wetlands are among the world's most productive environments. They are cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which large numbers of plant and animal species depend for survival. They are also important locations of plant genetic diversity and support large numbers of bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish and invertebrate species. Wetlands provide tremendous economic benefits through their role in supporting fisheries, agriculture and tourism, and through much of the world they have a crucial role as a source of clean water and other ecosystem services for dependant human populations. However, as highlighted in the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, they are also among the world's most threatened ecosystems, owing mainly to continued drainage, pollution, over-exploitation, impacts of invasive alien species, and/or other unsustainable uses of their resources.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention or Wetlands Convention) was adopted in Ramsar, Iran in February 1971 and came into force in December 1975. The Convention covers all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use. The Convention has three main 'pillars' of activity: the designation of wetlands of international importance as Ramsar sites; the promotion of the wise-use of all wetlands in the territory of each country; and international co-operation with other countries to further the wise-use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention's Contracting Parties have assumed a wide range of related obligations. Current details of Contracting Parties to the Convention, and the number and extent of Ramsar sites designated globally, are available on the Ramsar website.

The UK ratified the Convention in 1976. The UK has generally chosen to underpin the designation of its Ramsar sites through prior notification of these areas as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) (or Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland). Accordingly, these receive statutory protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981(as amended), the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended) and the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (as amended). Government have issued policy statements relating to the special status of Ramsar sites. This extends the same protection at a policy level to listed Ramsar sites in respect of new development as that afforded to sites which have been designated under the EC Birds and Habitats Directives as part of the EU Natura 2000 network. Summary details of designated Ramsar sites in the UK are available here.

A National Ramsar Committee acts in an advisory capacity to assist government in the implementation of the Convention. The Committee has well-focused Terms of Reference and a rolling three-year work plan linked to the Convention's Strategic Plan. A range of other activities also support the Convention's implementation. These include the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, involving action on a wide range of wetland habitats and species, and UK implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EEC) which requires all inland and coastal waters to reach 'good status' by 2015; the EC Directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/EEC); the EC Habitats and Species Directive (92/43/EEC) and the African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement under the Bonn Convention.

The UK's ratification also extends to its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Details of Ramsar sites in UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are available here. Throughout the UK's Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, Ramsar provides the only international mechanism for protecting sites of global importance and is thus of key conservation significance.

As a member of the UK Natura 2000 and Ramsar Steering Committee, JNCC contributes to the development of Government policy by providing scientific advice and participating in delegations to national, European and international Ramsar meetings, as well as assisting Government with harmonisation of Ramsar procedures within the European Union and worldwide. It also co-ordinates the production of the UK's national report to the triennial Conferences of the Parties to Ramsar. These reports provide valuable summaries of the range of national activities associated with the UK's Ramsar implementation.