The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Defining wetlands at a national level: The term “wetland” should be established clearly either through the use of the convention’s definition or one tailored to the country. The definition included in the text of the convention is: “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres”, including areas which “may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands”...

Where a nationally-adopted definition of wetlands exists and is soundly based on national scientific expertise, it is appropriate to use it. This is particularly helpful if tied to a national wetland classification system that establishes a detailed reference point for wetland inventories and conservation programmes. The existing Ramsar classification system for wetland type is designed to be quite general, a valuable source in the absence of more detail.

In countries such as the United States, Norway or Canada, wetland definitions have been in place for many years and are frequently enshrined in legislation and in policy. These definitions are generally compatible with the broad definition adopted by the convention...Such nationally-developed wetland definitions and classification systems are an important element of the flexibility of the Ramsar Convention. The differences are not a limitation; it is only important to recognize that these exist and ensure that the management agencies are aware of this.

Several examples of differences between nationally-based wetland definitions, in comparison to those used either in other nations or under the convention, are cited below. Numerous others could be cited.

(a) Water depth limits for wetland systems — the convention uses six metres whereas some nations limit shallow water wetlands, especially in marine zones, to two metres at low tide;

(b) Limits for defining water presence on an annual basis — the number of days per year when water is present at the surface of a wetland is used in some nations as a diagnostic tool. The convention has not provided any guidance in this area whereas some countries specifically require 7, 14 or an undetermined but measurable number of days per year when free water of a minimum depth can be observed; and

(c) Depth of organic materials in defining peatlands — 30, 40 and 100 cm are examples globally and are nationally adopted to allow data consistency with national soil surveys. The convention has not provided guidance in this area.

Defining stakeholders: A key step in any national wetland policy initiative is to define who is either affected by, or potentially involved with, the design, discussion and implementation of the policy. It is important to ensure that consultations include all those groups with a vested interest or capacity to make the end result as effective and achievable as possible. Stakeholders include those agencies, institutions, and groups who have an interest in, or are affected by, the national wetland policy. It includes government departments, non-governmental organizations, local governments and many others. The spectrum this covers will be quite variable by nation.

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