Implementation of the National Ecological Character Description Framework and Guidance for describing the ecological character of Australia's Ramsar wetlands
This page outlines guidance for the implementation of the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands. The guidance on implementation was agreed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on 12 June 2008 and applies to all future ecological character descriptions.
The ecological character description (ECD) of a wetland provides the baseline description of the wetland at a given point in time, which can be used to assess change in the ecological character of these sites. It provides information about the environmental features and services of the site. It forms the reference for the following activities:
- development and implementation of a management plan designed to maintain the ecological character of the site
- the design of a monitoring program to detect change in ecological character
- assist in reporting to the Australian Government and the Ramsar Convention about any changes in the ecological character of Ramsar sites, and
- Environmental impact assessment of the likely impact on ecological character of proposed actions, including that required under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Preparing ecological character descriptions
ECDs must be prepared using the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands.
All ECDs must contain the agreed minimum set of information outlined in the Framework.
Any contract to develop an ECD must include a task to update the Ramsar Information Sheet and Ramsar Site map (using the Mapping Specifications for Australian Ramsar wetlands) at the same time.
Agreement from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (the Department) and the relevant state and territory Wetland and Waterbird Taskforce agency must be obtained before an ECD is commenced for a Ramsar site.
For those sites where there are ECDs already being developed, they should be completed using whatever guidance they were initiated with, but should include the minimum data set outlined in the Framework. Any update or revision must use the Framework methodology.
For those sites where ECDs haven't commenced but will commence soon, they must use the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands.
Implementation at existing and proposed Ramsar sites
ECDs will be prepared for all Australia's Ramsar-listed wetlands. The timeframe for achieving this goal will be determined following the development of an implementation plan detailing the prioritisation and timing for the rollout of ECDs around Australia (see below for more details).
For Ramsar site nominations, a final or a substantial draft of an ECD for the site will be required before the nomination can be considered for approval by the Australian Government Minister of the Environment, Heritage and the Arts under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
As of September 2007 there were 65 Australian Ramsar sites. ECDs have been completed or are under development for 44 (68%) of these sites.
These descriptions have been prepared using a variety of funding sources including a range of national and regional Natural Heritage Trust funds, and some state and territory funds.
An implementation plan will be developed by the Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce following completion of the Ramsar 'Snapshot' project which was completed in December 2007. The Snapshot will provide information to help prioritise the preparation of ECDs.
The implementation plan will include a timetable for developing ECDs for the remaining sites with indicative costs and funding implications.
The implementation plan will be forwarded to the NRPPC for consideration and approval.
Process and endorsement
Once completed to the satisfaction of the site manager and the relevant jurisdiction, the ECD must be forwarded to the Department. It is recommended that site managers and jurisdictions consult with the Departmentduring the development of the ECD.
The ECDs will be checked by the Department to ensure that they meet the requirements of the ECD Framework. The Australian Government will provide any comments on the description within 40 working days.
Once an ECD meets the ECD Framework requirements, the Departmentwill append the ECD to the Ramsar Information Sheet and submit it to the Ramsar Secretariat. This process constitutes Australian Government endorsement of the ECD. The Department will forward a copy of the letter to the Ramsar Secretariat to the land manager and relevant jurisdiction.
Endorsed ECDs or a hyperlink to the relevant jurisdiction's website will be available on the Department's website.
For proposed Ramsar sites, the Ramsar Information Sheet, map and ECD will form part of the nomination documentation that is provided to the Minister. If approved, this documentation will be forwarded on to the Ramsar Secretariat.
The ECD can be re-examined, and updated if required, at the same time as the RIS, which is every six years. An update to an endorsed ECD can only be considered in the following circumstances:
- If further substantial data, knowledge or resources are available to improve the original description. In such cases the aim would be to expand on, clarify and refine the original baseline, not to establish a new baseline by describing a more recent, changed ecological state
- If the boundaries of the site are extended, reduced or modified, in which case the Ramsar Information Sheet for Ramsar sites and the ECD should be re-examined and updated where required, or
- If the wetland undergoes favourable human-induced changes as a result of a rehabilitation and/or restoration project or if the wetland undergoes natural evolutionary change. In such cases the ecological character of the wetland may change to the extent that a new baseline is required for assessing impacts of proposed actions and for monitoring and evaluating future change. For example, if a wetland is used for water storage, the limits of acceptable change will be related to a water regime that is limited by its use as a water storage facility. If it was decided that the wetland was no longer required for water storage and was to be restored to a 'natural' state, the wetland would become quite different in nature (e.g. the water regime would be related to nature inflow) and the ECD should reflect this.
The original description must be retained and can be supplemented by the updated version.
Implementation at other sites
The Framework can also be used to prepare ECDs for non-Ramsar wetlands. It may also be useful for developing ECDs for other high conservation value aquatic ecosystems.