Posts Tagged ‘Ramsar Culture Network’

Adriana Ford #art4wetlands on WetlandLIFE at RamsarCOP13

February 2, 2019
Flamingoes on the Ras Al Khor wetlands with Dubai's skyline in the background. Photo: Adriana Ford

Flamingoes on the Ras Al Khor wetlands with Dubai’s skyline in the background. Photo: Adriana Ford

For World Wetlands Day, Adriana Ford reports on the WetlandLIFE project’s side event at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Dubai and how it was received. Highlighting the various contributions (on the Community Voice Method and by two of the artists Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison), Adriana goes on to report on the responses from the audience (who ‘got’ what the arts and cultural value focused approaches had to offer).


If you were to ask any wetland expert what is the conference to attend for connecting to global wetlands networks, it will most likely be the Ramsar Convention COP (Conference of Parties). It’s like the wetlands version of the UN Climate Change Conference which happens each year (typically making the news), as delegates from governments and other organisations from across the world gather to discuss and make decisions on the issues facing wetlands. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands may not be quite as well-known, but it is the oldest of all the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements, adopted in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar (coming into force in 1975), with an impressive 170 Contracting Parties.

The Ramsar Convention states its mission as,

“the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”

It provides a framework for wetland management and protection at a global to local scale, including the designation of protected “Ramsar sites”. Every three years, the COP – the decision-making body made up of the governments that are the Contracting Parties to the Convention – meets in a different country, to assess progress and to make decisions about how to improve the processes and implementation of the Convention. The most recent COP (COP13) met in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, from 21st-29th October 2018.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a COP, but for a long while I’ve been curious about how they work and what’s involved. What I did know was that the Ramsar COP13 offered a unique and significant opportunity for WetlandLIFE to internationalise our impact and to make important new connections.  WetlandLIFE is a three year multi-institutional research project funded by the Valuing Nature Programme, exploring narratives and values around wetlands, particularly from a health and wellbeing perspective, and also the role of mosquitoes within this. Our research is focused in England, but our interdisciplinary approaches and findings have far broader applicability. So, I applied for a competitive place to host a “side event” at the conference. Held at lunchtimes and in the evenings of the COP, in between the plenary discussions, these side events provide an opportunity for organisations to present and discuss ideas and projects to the most relevant and global audience of wetland practitioners and experts that you could ask for.

We had been allocated a 75 minute slot on the penultimate day of COP13, for our session titled, ‘Sense of Place & Wellbeing in Wetlands: Using Film and the Arts to achieve SDG3’.  After arriving a few days early to navigate the COP and attend other side events (and of course, to promote our own!), I was joined by a small team, comprised of two of our WetlandLIFE artists, Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison; Chris Fremantle – a researcher, artist and cultural historian and advisor to WetlandLIFE; and Dave Pritchard – a freelance environmental consultant with extensive experience of the Ramsar Convention, who is also Coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Network.

Together, our aim was to exemplify and discuss ways that the arts, humanities and social sciences can be used either individually or alongside other disciplines to work towards Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing – for wetlands, particularly through sharing our experiences from WetlandLIFE.  I introduced our audience to Community Voice Method, a social sciences approach which uses filmed interviews as a way of bringing together different experiences and perspectives in an engaging way. When we screen our short films in the spring, they will act as a catalyst for further discourse and deliberation on wetland values and management. Our artists also introduced their work, from poetry and creative writing, to mosquito caravans and bird hides as creative hubs, as ways to both understand and create value and connectivity around wetlands and nature.

Our session was well attended, with representation from at least 12 countries in our audience, from the Middle East, Africa, The Americas, Europe and Asia, and we were fortunate to count two members of the Ramsar Secretariat amongst them. I think it would be fair to say we were prepared to justify our approaches of using the arts, imagining our audience to be potentially sceptical about its value for practical wetland management.  The response, however, was much to the contrary.

The enthusiasm for our approaches was clear and came from all sides. Paraphrasing a few comments from the discussion,

“for many years Ramsar has tried to convince people to save wetlands based on wildlife; then they tried economic values. But this [arts and culture] works. Getting people to think about how they value wetlands is what’s needed,”

and, “Until we can translate cultural values into resolutions we are going to struggle, and this is at the core,”

and quite enthusiastically, “We need to multiply this project [WetlandLIFE] everywhere!”

What became apparent from the discussions was that far from cultural values (and approaches of tapping into those) being considered a luxury afforded only to university projects such as ours, they are recognised as having a crucial role to play in Ramsar, because despite the many successes, wetlands across the globe continue to be degraded and destroyed, and new approaches are required. The idea of tapping into the hearts of people – communities, and indeed decision-makers – through creative and visual approaches may be part of what’s needed to help protect these hugely important, but often overlooked, ecosystems.

The experiences we gained from hosting our session at the Ramsar COP has been reassuring and motivating. We are keen now to build upon this momentum, with plans to take forward the discussions this year with key organisations and networks including Defra and the Ramsar Culture Network. We will be thinking about how cultural values and approaches can be better embedded into the Convention, and from our perspective, how WetlandLIFE can contribute to this, with the hope that somehow we can make a difference on the international stage.

Flamingoes feeding on the Ras Al Khor wetlands in Dubai, UAE. Photo: Adriana Ford


Dr Adriana Ford is a Research Fellow in Environmental Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich, and Coordinator of the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Please email a.ford@gre.ac.uk for more information, and download the presentation Presentation Ramsar COP13 WetlandLIFE

Adriana works on various aspects of the human dimensions of  environmental management and conservation, including human-nature relationships, cultural values, wellbeing, and sustainable development.  She is currently working on WetlandLIFE, an interdisciplinary Valuing Nature project exploring the values of wetlands from a health and wellbeing perspective. She has also worked on projects exploring linkages between small-scale fisheries and responsible tourism, and has a broad interest in marine and coastal environments through her role in the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Prior to Greenwich, Adriana worked as a teaching and research fellow at University of York, where she was also awarded her PhD on invasive species management in Australia. Adriana has also worked in Tanzania for a sustainable forestry initiative, and has an MSc from Imperial College London, and a BA(Hons) from the University of Cambridge.

Victoria Leslie #art4wetlands

October 25, 2018

Photo courtesy of Tim Acott

Victoria Leslie is one of the artists working with the WetlandLIFE project, part of the Valuing Nature Programme. As part of the Ramsar Culture Network and ecoartscotland #art4wetlands story leading up to the Ramsar Intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands’ COP (Conference of the Parties) we are highlighting the role of artists in environmental research. In this piece Victoria, talks about being part of the team and the role of storytelling and folklore.

On Sunday 28th October (18.15 in Room 7) the WetlandLIFE team will host a side event at the Ramsar Intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands13th COP in Dubai. The event focuses on ‘Sense of Place & Wellbeing in Wetlands: Using Film & the Arts to achieve SDG3’.


It’s a bright spring day, though a chill persists, a memory of recent snowfall. We have forgotten the cold for now, huddled around the fire – a raised fire-pit more accurately – as we eat our sandwiches. There are quite a few of us converged around the warmth, mostly Hands on Heritage volunteers, enjoying a well-earned break from their labours on the Saxon longhouse we are ensconced within. I am the interloper, warming my hands, as I listen to their stories amid the crackle and spit of the flames.

It’s dark inside, the only light emanates from the doorway, the stained-glass windows at the gabled end and the fire itself, which, as long as a trough accommodates us all comfortably. It is easy to see why homesteads were constructed in this manner, with the room arranged around this central channel, creating such a practical socialising space. And it is just as easy imagining yourself in that bygone time, thanks to the many convincing details: the unlevelled render over the wattle and daub, the intricate wood carvings based on a ninth century original.

This recreation of the Saxon longhouse, part of the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Project, is one of the initiatives brought to life by enthusiastic volunteers learning a range of heritage crafts. They are just some of the people I have been meeting as part of my role assisting Dr Adriana Ford with her Community Voice Method, a participatory approach examining the relationships people have with their local wetlands. Thus far, I have been fortunate to meet a whole host of people keen to talk about their experience of the Levels, from reserve managers and volunteer conservationists to local historians and environmental bloggers.

Being part of the WetlandLIFE team in an artistic capacity, I am interested in local storytelling traditions, customs and folklore and am engaging with this material to produce new narratives for the wetlands in writing both fiction and non-fiction. My creative approach usually involves plumbing the depths of the archives but in working with Adriana I have also had access to a wide range of people, keen to talk about their experiences and to share stories belonging to the wetland’s past. As a folklore enthusiast, this makes for rich pickings, with traditions such as the wassailing of the apple harvest still enduring, along with memories of reballing – the fishing of eels with a knot of worms – and even tales told of a large wild cat stalking the moors.

In turn, Adriana and myself – and the WetlandLIFE team more broadly – have been engaging with theoretical approaches to storytelling, thinking about how the narratives we tell undoubtedly contribute to the cultural identity of a place and sometimes function to preserve particular environments, often due to the sentimental associations they generate. Adriana’s interview process includes an exploration of oral histories, but through working together, now contains questions related to literature and discourse; of the stories that wetland-users consume as well as the ones they tell.

I think that this kind of relationship offers a fresh perspective and approach, a different way of interpreting and giving voice. It certainly strikes me, sitting at the fireside, that it would have been in a hall very much like this one, throughout the long bleak nights, that people would have gathered together and told stories. Orbiting the fire, fictions would have been created, memories and experiences shared. It is this spirit of exchange that resonates through WetlandLIFE, of ideas kindled by thinking together, of stories unearthed by collective exploration and of taking turns to stoke the flames.


Victoria Leslie is writer and folklorist, author of a short story collection, Skein and Bone, and a novel, Bodies of Water. Her fiction has accrued a number of awards and nominations and she has been awarded fellowships for her writing at Hawthornden in Scotland and the Saari Institute in Finland, where she researching Nordic water myths. Her non-fiction has appeared in History Today, The Victorianist and Gramarye.

#art4wetlands

June 20, 2018

#art4wetlands

Welcome to a new series of posts here and on Twitter @ecoartscotland focused on art, artists and wetlands using the hashtag #art4wetlands. Feel free to join in by posting using this hashtag or contacting us with suggestions for blogs. We’ll be publishing weekly between now and the Ramsar Convention Conference of the Parties #RamsarCOP13 which takes place in October 2018 in Dubai, UAE.

Wetlands are amongst the most widely threatened habitats world-wide. Threats include unsustainable urban development e.g. being drained for housing development; pollution from urban settlements, industry and agriculture; invasive species, as well as overharvesting. According to analyses by Ramsar,

The global extent of wetlands is now estimated to have declined between 64-71% in the 20th century, and wetland losses and degradation continue worldwide.

But the biggest threat is a perception that to quote the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, wetlands are,

…misunderstood and undervalued by people, leading to a desire to replace them with more ‘useful’ and ‘productive’ options such as housing developments and agricultural land.

Wetlands are a fundamental part of the water cycle, with a key role in cleaning water as it moves from smaller bodies into larger ones (rivers, seas, oceans). Wetlands are critical to many migratory animals and hence their careful management is an internationally shared responsibility. Wetlands are also home to a multitude of amphibious species. Wetlands such as saltmarshes and mangroves stabilise littoral zones, reducing coastal erosion and storm damage to properties.

Artists have represented waterbirds since neolithic times, and the Ramsar Convention published Ramsar Cultural Heritage Information Pack 10 Wetlands – an inspiration in art, literature, music and folklore

85816

Betsy Damon, The Living Water Garden, Chengdu, 1998

More recently Peter Howard’s piece Wetland Landscapes in English Art highlighted how during the 18th and 19th Centuries artists in this country’s tradition marked changes in perceptions of wetlands. Pieces by contemporary artists Simon Read (Communities and Coastal Change) and Betsy Damon (The Sounds of Water) open up contemporary activist practices where artists are not just representing wetlands but also getting directly involved in conservation and wise use.

bow-creek-park-6-copy-2-e1519921355448

Limmo Ecology Park visited during the HydroCitizenship Research, Photo: Simon Read

We have assembled a programme highlighting artists working in different ways on issues such as habitat restoration, pollution and biodiversity loss. We have examples from all six of the Ramsar Convention’s regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania).

The Ramsar Convention’s Culture Network underpins this initiative which draws on the expertise of members of the Network’s Art Focus Group. The Ramsar Convention has a longstanding commitment to culture and the arts from its adoption in 1971 through a series of Resolutions to its partnership with the MAVA Foundation and others in the Ramsar Culture Network (2011-18). As part of World Wetlands Day every year the Ramsar Convention holds the Global Wetlands Youth Photo Competition.

Please share examples of artists (whether now or in the ancient past) contributing to wetlands conservation and wise use with the hashtag #art4wetlands. We are particularly interested in art that makes a difference and we look forward to learning about new examples over the next four months.


%d bloggers like this: