Review of Ramsar sites of the Russian Federation

In 1971 at an intergovernmental conference in the town of Ramsar, Iran, representatives from 18 nations signed the Final Act of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, committing their governments to the wise use of wetlands in their territory, and to designating wetlands of international importance to the Ramsar List.

The Soviet Union joined the Ramsar Convention and designated 13 wetlands of international importance as Ramsar sites in 1976. It was evident even then that, through providing international status for these sites, the country made only the first step toward conservation of its wetlands. The first national wetland inventory, carried out in the early 1980s, indicated that at least 250 wetland areas met Ramsar criteria (Skokova & Vinogradov, 1986).

In 1991, after the break-up of the USSR, only three Ramsar sites remained in Russia. Serious efforts were made to initiate new activities to conserve and sustain Russian wetlands. On 13 September 1994, the Government of the Russian Federation passed Decree No 1050, which reconfirmed Ramsar status for the three sites and designated 32 additional sites as wetlands of international importance. The total area of the 35 Ramsar sites is 10.3 million ha. These sites support large populations of waterbirds, up to an estimated total of 10 million birds (in August, at the end of the breeding season), representing over 12% of the Russian waterbird population (Krivenko, 1998).

The majority of the sites are large complex habitats and include wetlands of various types. Eight out of 35 sites are primarily represented by marine wetlands, and the rest are inland natural wetland complexes with a high proportion of floodplain and deltaic riverine complexes and lakes. Peatlands are protected in 19 out of 35 Ramsar sites, covering 946,000 ha or 9% of the total area of Ramsar sites, although it should be noted that only 2 sites have been specially designated to protect peatland ecosystems. Only at these two sites, peatland management and restoration actions are taken.

All 35 Ramsar sites contain representative, rare or unique wetland types. The importance of wetlands for the conservation of migratory water birds at all stages of their life cycle has traditionally been the major criterion for identifying wetland sites to be listed under the Ramsar Convention. For this reason, all existing Ramsar sites are important breeding, moulting, staging, or wintering areas of water birds.

 For the most part, Russian Ramsar sites are quite large areas divided into zones where different regimes of nature protection and limited land use have been applied. The forms of protective and sustainable use management regimes have been defined in individual regulations prepared for each site. These regulations were developed for the majority of sites in the late 1990s, approved by federal conservation authorities, and adopted by Administrations of relevant administrative regions of the Russian Federation. 

The majority of Ramsar sites have protected natural areas of different status within their borders. The 35 Ramsar sites include, in whole or in part, 12 strict nature reserves (zapovedniki, IUCN Category I) and their buffer zones, 1 national park (IUCN Category II), 10 nature reserves/sanctuaries/wildlife refuges (zakazniki, IUCN Categories IV to VI) managed at federal level, 18 reserves/sanctuaries/wildlife refuges (zakazniki) managed at local level, and over 30 nature monuments (IUCN Category III). Protected natural areas cover 60% of the total area of Ramsar sites, with strict nature reserves covering 19.6% (over 2 million ha).

A programme and action plan for further development of the national network of Ramsar sites in Russia were designed in 1999-2000, including the following actions:

  • Regionalisation of the country for the purpose of wetland inventory and conservation;
  • Assessment of the current status of wetland ecosystems and identification of priorities for their conservation and wise use;
  • Compilation of the Shadow List of internationally important wetlands to be designated under the Ramsar Convention;
  • Publication of the List for open discussion;
  • Implementation of requisite measures aimed at expanding the existing network of wetlands protected under the Ramsar Convention.

The results of implementation of the first phase of the programme (methodology, regionalisation and assessment) and the Shadow List consisting of 166 sites were published in 2000 (Krivenko, 2000).

The total area of 166 shadow-listed sites is nearly 44 million ha. These wetlands include 33 different wetland types, following the Ramsar classification system, and represent not only important waterbird habitats but also extensive peatland areas, steppe wetlands and other wetland types that have not been adequately represented in the national network of Ramsar sites. Twelve small sites representing the last remaining unique steppe peatlands are considered the most important for designation. There are 62 sites on the Shadow List that have no protection status, the other sites are partially or totally protected under national protected areas law.

See list with Ramsar sites in the Russian Federation.

Read more about Russian Ramsar sites:

Krivenko, V.G., ed. 1999. Wetlands in Russia, Volume 1: Wetlands of international importance. Wetlands International – AEME Publ. 52, 194 pp. [Link to publication]

Krivenko, V.G., ed. 2000. Wetlands in Russia, Volume 3: Wetlands on the Ramsar Shadow List. Wetlands International Global Series No. 6, 409 pp. [Link to publication]