Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, designated under the Ramsar Convention.
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.
Ramsar sites may also incorporate riparian (banks of a stream, river, pond or watercourse) 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.
The Ramsar Convention is an international agreement signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, which provides for the conservation and good use of wetlands. The UK Government ratified the Convention and designated the first Ramsar sites in 1976.
Natural England advises Government on sites that qualify as Ramsar sites, and when doing so is guided by criteria set out in the Convention. These criteria are:
if it contains a representative, rare, or unique example of a natural or near-natural wetland type found within the appropriate biogeographic region;
if it supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities;
if it supports populations of plant and/or animal species important for maintaining the biological diversity of a particular biogeographic region;
if it supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions;
if it regularly supports 20,000 or more water birds;
if it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of water bird;
if it supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish subspecies, species or families, life-history stages, species interactions and/or populations that are representative of wetland benefits and/or values and thereby contributes to global biological diversity;
if it is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks depend, either within the wetland or elsewhere;
if it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species.
As a matter of policy, Ramsar sites in England are protected as European sites (as set out in The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (SI No. 2010/490) which supercede The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended)). The vast majority are also classified as SPAs and all terrestrial Ramsar sites in England are also notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
The information set out here is only very general. We are always happy to discuss any concerns and to offer advice and guidance. Contact your local Natural England office.