What is a Ramsar site?

The Ramsar Convention was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971.  It is an international treaty that provides the framework for conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.  The Convention defines the wise use of wetlands as, “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”.  Wise use can thus be seen as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.  Through this convention Ramsar sites are designated, of which there are now over 2,300 worldwide.  A Ramsar site is a wetland area considered to be of international importance.  The Channel Islands are now home to eight of these sites.

Why are they important?

Wetland areas are amongst the most productive of the world’s ecosystems, supporting rich biodiversity.  They are also a source of great economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value.  Unfortunately, wetlands continue to be amongst the world’s most threatened ecosystems.

Designation as a Ramsar site provides a tool which supports the preservation of these sensitive wetland habitats and their species.  In the Channel Islands this is realised through education, sustainable tourism and environmental initiatives which, in turn, contribute to the long-term conservation and wise use of that particular site.

What is the Channel Islands Ramsar initiative?

With eight Ramsar sites situated within 50 miles of each other and the growing mobility of visitors travelling by private boat or commercial tour operator to the various sites, the islands have agreed that there is a need for a universal code of practice to ensure that these special areas are enjoyed responsibly without disturbing or harming the wildlife and habitats for which they are significant.

The bodies formed to provide advisory support for managing Ramsar sites in Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey and Sark have collaborated to produce an overarching code of conduct that applies to all sites.  In addition, detailed site-specific guides will inform visitors about the special features of each site, improving awareness and adding to their enjoyment.

Ramsar sites in the Channel Islands:

  • Alderney – West Coast and Burhou Islands
  • Guernsey – Herm, Jethou and The Humps
  • Guernsey – Lihou Island and I’Erée Headland
  • Sark – Gouliot Caves and Headland
  • Jersey – Les Pierres de Locq
  • Jersey – Les Écréhous and Les Dirouilles
  • Jersey – Les Minquiers

How to visit the Ramsar sites

While several of the main island sites can be accessed via public transport, others can only be reached by boat, and visitors will need to either book a place on an organised trip, charter a boat or have their own vessel to reach the sites.  Several boat operators are signed up to a code of conduct for commercial operators that supports the Ramsar principles and conservation objectives for each site.  The ‘Commercial Code’ has also been agreed by many companies offering excursions into the main island sites by foot, kayak or other means.  All of these companies are listed on the recommended operators’ page of the Channel Islands Ramsar website and can be searched for by location, destination or activity type.

It should be noted that some sites may at times be inaccessible and can be subject to strong currents and complex tides. It is hoped that the information provided here, in addition to other important local information sources such as tide tables, can be used to ensure both wise, and safe, use of these sites.

WiSe accredited tour operators have undergone appropriate training and are recommended by the Channel Islands’ Ramsar Authorities.  The WiSe (Wildlife Safe) scheme offers nationally recognised training and accreditation to charter operators wishing to become involved in sustainable marine ecotourism.  The course sets out the best code of practise when interacting with wildlife including specific information about wildlife in the local area, which can be used to educate customers.  Using local operators familiar with the area for your wildlife expeditions should increase the value of your experience, minimise disturbance and ensure that no offences are committed.  A full list of locally accredited businesses can be found here.