Ramsar-World Heritage report building on IUCN study highlights nature-culture links

People’s cultural values and community participation contribute to positive conservation outcomes in exceptional wetland areas with dual World Heritage and Ramsar status, according to a new report by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat in cooperation with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. Building on IUCN’s 2016 study, “Managing MIDAs”, which provides guidance for sites with multiple international designations, it features six case studies illustrating the challenges and successes of integrating both nature and culture in the management of internationally designated wetlands.

Photo: IUCN / Wendy Strahm

Local girl in Banc d'Arguin National Park, a site with dual designation under the World Heritage and Ramsar conventions

The case studies consider the Okavango Delta (Botswana), Mont-Saint-Michel (France), Wood Buffalo (Canada), Banc d’Arguin (Mauritania), Sian Ka’an (Mexico) and Itsukushima Shinto Shrine (Japan). The findings from these outstanding wetlands are intended to support both site managers and policy-makers in making the most of the powerful role that cultural values and community participation can play in wetland conservation and wise use.

The World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands are the only two global intergovernmental agreements with a strong site-based focus. For nearly 45 years they have collaborated towards the goal of conserving our outstanding natural and cultural areas for future generations.

Many of the world’s great civilisations, including Ancient Egypt in Africa, the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica and the Indus Valley civilisation in South Asia, arose around wetlands. Today, most of the world’s biodiversity is located in traditional lands and waters. For this reason, indigenous peoples and local communities continue to play a central role in the conservation and wise use of wetlands, which provide drinking water and are key to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, including on water, food security, climate change and poverty alleviation.

The “World Heritage and Ramsar Conventions: Converging Towards Success report concludes that dual designation as a World Heritage property and a Ramsar Site can deliver benefits, for example by increasing resilience to a range of challenges, external pressures and threats. This is an important benefit as the latest figures show that 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared in the last century, and that every year we lose 1% of those remaining.

These and other of the report’s ‘Lessons Learned’ build on the recommendations of IUCN’s report “Managing MIDAs: Harmonising the management of Multi-Internationally Designated Areas: Ramsar Sites, World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and UNESCO Global Geoparks”, launched in 2016 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The MIDAs project stems from an IUCN Resolution adopted by IUCN Members in 2012, aiming to realise the opportunities for synergies and identify solutions for the management problems that can occur in areas with multiple international designations.  

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