Protected German wetland to be partially filled

Ramsar, the intergovernmental body for the conservation of wetlands, has struck out at a government-backed plan to eliminate 20% of a protected site.

Delmar Blasco, the Ramsar Convention Secretary-General, has hit out at approved proposals by aircraft manufacturer, Airbus Industrie, to fill in 20% of Mühlenberger Loch near Hamburg, the largest freshwater tidal ecosystem in the EU, in order to build a new factory.

“As Secretary-General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, I am very concerned not only by the possible loss of vital wetland but also by the precedent set by the German government in invoking ‘urgent national interest’ as a reason for proceeding with the development of Mühlenberger Loch, a Ramsar-protected site,” Blasco said. “What can we expect from the poorer countries if one of the richest countries of the world is invoking urgent national interest, something that has only happened once before in the thirty years of Ramsar’s operation? Scientific studies have pointed out that altering this important part of the Mühlenberger Loch would substantially affect the ecological character of the ecosystem,” he added.

At 1,668 acres (675 hectares), Mühlenberger Loch is the largest freshwater tidal mudflat remaining in the European Union, providing a critical habitat for 70 species of migratory birds. It is considered by scientists to be the most important resting site in all of northwestern Europe for the shoveler and is of international importance for three bird species: the shoveler, the teal, and the little gull, as well as being of national importance for eight other bird species. On top of being a Ramsar designation, the loch is also protected by two other major international agreements: the EU Flora, Fauna, and Habitat Directives; and the EU Bird Protection Directives. For this reason, conservation groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), are concerned that building on the loch could set a dangerous international precedent by weakening protection provided by international treaties.

“Europe cannot afford to sell out its environmental protection directives in exchange for a misplaced airplane interior design facility,” said IFAW Director of Habitat, Jared Blumenfeld. “The EU and the 123 signatories to Ramsar should stand strongly behind Secretary-General Blasco’s efforts to maintain the integrity of the Ramsar Convention, and the preservation of unique Mühlenberger Loch.”

IFAW has launched an international campaign to against the new Airbus facility and has mailed letters to the CEOs and presidents of major airline companies that have already placed orders for the company’s new jumbo-jet, which is to be fitted with internal furnishings in the new plant.

Airbus Industrie says that its plant, although affecting 20% of the water area, will be balanced by the creation of a new protected area of similar quality, almost twice the size of the affected part, to be located downstream on the river Elbe. The company says that it has taken the project’s impact on the environment fully into account and it is “considered to be justified by the relevant European authorities”. Legal procedures have been strictly followed and the required approvals by local, regional and national authorities have been obtained, it says.

The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International arises from a 1971 convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, providing the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources by national action and international co-operation.

There are presently 123 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1060 wetland sites, totalling 310,000 square miles (800,000 sq km)- more than three times the size of Britain- designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, including 38 new additions (see related story).

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