Ramsar Sites

Marine Ramsar Sites in the UK

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, designated under the Ramsar Convention,an intergovernmental treaty agreed in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran.

Wetlands are defined as ‘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 [and] 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.’1

Under the Convention, each Contracting Party must designate at least one wetland site within their territory for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. There are 169 contracting parties, with 2,247 Ramsar sites, covering a total area of 215,051,274 ha.2 

In the UK, the first Ramsar sites were designated in 1976,with the first sites in UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies designated in 1990. Sites proposed for selection are advised by the UK statutory nature conservation agencies, along with JNCC. The UK also has a national Ramsar Committee who provide further advice. Article 2.2 of the Convention states that ‘wetlands should be selected for the List on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology.’ Further criteria are laid out on the Ramsar website. The UK currently has 149 sites covering 787,439 ha.3 

Initial selection of sites of importance to UK waterfowl means that many Ramsar sites are also SPAs. The scope has now been broadened to cover all aspects of wetlands, recognising that wetlands are important for conservation of biodiversity. Ramsar sites may also be SSSIs, with legal protection and guidelines for management, or SACs.

The Convention emphasises that human use of wetlands on a sustainable basis is compatible with Ramsar principles and wetland conservation1. The Convention utilises the ‘Wise Use’ principle, that ‘wise use of wetlands is the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development.’4

Further information on Ramsar sites can be found through nature conservation agency websites for EnglandWalesScotlandNorthern Ireland, and sites in Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. General UK information, including site numbers and statistics are available through the JNCC.  

Ramsar Sites Management

Contracting Parties are expected to ‘manage their Ramsar Sites so as to maintain their ecological character and retain their essential functions and values for future generations.’5

Wise Use Guidelines emphasise the importance for Contracting Parties to: 

  • adopt national wetland policies, involving a review of their existing legislation and institutional arrangements to deal with wetland matters (either as separate policy instruments or as part of national environmental action plans, national biodiversity strategies, national development plans, or other national strategic planning); 
  • carry out national wetland inventories, wetland monitoring, research, training, education and public awareness; and 
  • take action at wetland sites, involving the development of integrated management plans1


[1] An Introduction to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands,7th ed. Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Gland, Switzerland, 2016. 

[2] http://www.ramsar.org/ 

[3] http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1388

[4] http://www.ramsar.org/about/the-wise-use-of-wetlands 

[5] http://www.ramsar.org/sites-countries/managing-ramsar-sites