To expand the commitments for the RAMSAR annotated islands, it will be important to work more closely with the local inhabitants
In order to protect our Wetlands and expand or restore their regenerative capacity and function in the Faroe Islands, we need to connect and exchange more with the inhabitants on Mykines, Nolsoy and Skuvoy, our three RAMSAR sites. Any plans for activation programs on and with the RAMSAR wetlands must be done in close cooperation with the local population. Based on mutual respect and the exchange of knowledge.”
says Leivur Janus Hansen, Head of Department of Terrestrial Zoology and responsible for the RAMSAR Convention sites at Faroe Islands National Museum.
Strategic Goal 3 of the RAMSAR Convention, which the member governments have agreed to follow, is about “Wisely and Sustainably Using All Wetlands”. Among other, it declares:
“The traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities relevant for the wise use of wetlands and their customary use of wetland resources are documented, respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention, with a full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities at all relevant level”.
Wetlands are a very precious but fragile biosphere. To use them wisely and sustainably, their value for the society must be determined and threats must be identified, measured and counteracted. The good thing is – knowing exactly how wetlands protect our climate, creates greater awareness and increases the sense of community. The preservation of the areas is in the national interest of the population. Keeping wetlands healthy also helps the government to reduce its carbon footprint. Robust data can only be collected by experts and institutes for the connection between soil and water and must be observed and measured regularly over a longer period.
The original reason for designating 3 areas in the Faroe Islands as part of the RAMSAR Convention was to protect the seabirds that nest and breed there. Their natural habitat are the steep cliffs on the islands. The protection of waterfowl was jointly agreed by many countries in the 1970s and is defined in the Convention. The Convention was expanded later to the subject of peat- and wetlands, which by now are recognized as some of the most valuable biospheres globally, and extremely important for climate mitigation through their CO2 sequestration potential.
In the Faroe Islands, the Environmental Agency is responsible for the RAMSAR sites and for the annual research to report back to RAMSAR. The biologists in charge are part of the Tjodsavnid, the National Museum of the Faroe Islands. www.tjodsavnid.fo
Three islands are annotated RAMSAR Sites in the Faroe Islands. All of them are about the same in area, but have different populations:
The island of Mykines sees the most tourists as it is home to the cute Puffins. Mykines has about 10 square kilometers and is the western most island of the Faroe Islands. The population of Mykines is about 10 to 15, although there are about 40 houses on the island. 60 years ago the population of Mykines was 160 to 180. There is a school on the island, which was built in 1894 and a church that was built in 1879. The summer months bring more people to the island, with both locals and foreigners visiting. Mykines has a large bird population and over 1.000 sheep.
(taken from: https://www.mykines.fo/the-islands/?lang=EN)
Nólsoy as one of the smaller islands in Faroes, also has only ten square kilometres. It is situated a few kilometres east of the capital, Tórshavn. Though 371 metres high it is the lowest of the 18 islands. 2004 Nólsoy went from being an independent municipality to be a part of the large Tórshavn municipality. The island itself has no member of council, but there is a committee, chosen by the villagers to give advice in matters that concern the Nólsoy people.
In 1970 the population was about 350, but during the next years it gradually decreased. Now people want to live in Nólsoy again, especially younger people. Today the population is about 230, which makes it the largest community of the three sites.
(taken from: https://nolsoy.fo/en/about-nolsoy/nolsoy-in-short/)
The third RAMSAR site, Skúvoy, is known for its richness in birds, with a large bird population of common murre. Skúvoy is a gem in many ways. The lundaland (grass-grown area facing the sea which puffins inhabit) is almost located in the village, there are steep birdcliffs, beautiful valleys (one is actually called the “beautiful valley”: Fagridalur), historical places, colorful houses, boathouses and boats. The church is worth a visit, and the graveyard Ólansgarður, with the grave of Chieftain Sigmundur Brestisson. The local guides in Skúvoy will know all the best stories to tell you more about. The population in Skúvoy is 30 people.
(info taken from https://visitsandoy.fo/en/frontpage/about/skuvoy/)
“Overtourism” is one of the issues faced also in the Faroe Islands lately, which means here a concentration of too many people for the capacity of the fragile nature, but there is no legal framework to limit the number of tourists to visit the RAMSAR sites. The mandate for the land is with the landowners, who own 50 % of the land and with the development of tourism to the Faroe Islands in recent years, tourism has become a new means of income for the local people.
For Leivur Janus Hansen, in order to plan and materialize new programs for the protection of the bogs and wetlands present on the islands, it is essential to have a relationship of trust with the families living on the islands. To balance their needs and goals, to use existing knowledge and old wisdom for the right use of the land is essential, and the common interest in its preservation must be negotiated with mutual respect.
The biologists who carry out the annual surveys for the RAMSAR reporting take the necessary measurements and leave the islands again. There is no time for cultivating relationships with the local people.
To wisely and sustainably use and protect the 3 RAMSAR islands, a greater appreciation for the importance of the natural biosphere and the existing wetlands for climate protection must be created. Larger budgets for specialist staff and the will to find political solutions in the event of conflicts of interest are necessary pre-conditions to achieve future goals.
Further information on the RAMSAR Convention:
The 2022 Wuhan Declaration is a result of cop14, and reflects the urgency to act for wetlands: https://ramsar.org/news/cop14-closes-with-21-resolutions-adopted-to-advance-wetlands-action-for-people-and-nature
How the RAMSAR strategic plans contributes to the SDGs: https://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/ramsarsp4_sdglinks_poster_e.pdf