The death has been announced (in the USA in early March at the age of 93) of Mr Eskandar Firouz, former Environment Minister of Iran. Mr Firouz was one of the three founding fathers (with Dr Luc Hoffmann of Tour du Valat research station in the Camargue in France, and Dr Geoffrey Matthews of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge) of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance – the “Ramsar Convention”. The conference which adopted the text of the Convention was held in the Iranian Caspian city of Ramsar on 2 February 1971, now recognised as “World Wetland Day”. (The “Call of the Curlew” workshop which led to the founding of the Curlew Forum was held at Slimbridge on World Wetland Day, 2 February 2017).
The Ramsar Convention is an international agreement, signed not by conservation bodies but by governments, and remains the only international agreement devoted to a particular habitat. Many later conventions (such as the EU Directives on Birds and Habitats) adopt elements of the Ramsar Convention. States which join Ramsar accept two basic obligations: to list at least one wetland in its territory as a “Wetland of international importance” (or ‘Ramsar site’), avoiding change in its ecological character; and to make “wise use” of wetlands within its territory. Currently 171 states have joined the Convention and 2,388 wetlands covering over 250 million hectares are on the ‘Ramsar List’ (for further details see the Ramsar website at www.ramsar.org).
The process leading to the establishment of the Convention began in 1962 in the Camargue at the so-called ‘MAR’ Conference which – realising the drastic loss of wetlands throughout the world – first called, at the instigation of Dr Hoffmann, for an international inter-governmental treaty on wetlands. During the 1960s a series of international governmental meetings worked on the text and the obligations under the treaty, despite tensions in the time of the Cold War. A meeting was planned in 1968 in the city then called Leningrad, at which the involvement of the then Soviet Union and other Socialist states was to be sought. Political problems meant that this meeting failed to bring the expected progress: Dr Hoffmann handed over to Dr Matthews as Director of what was then called the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau (now ‘Wetlands International’, based in The Netherlands). Dr Matthews met Mr Firouz, who was then the Iranian Environment Minister, who was visiting Slimbridge in the late 1960s, and indicated that a venue for a meeting to finalise the Convention text was needed. Mr Firouz immediately offered to host the initial conference in Iran, a neighbour to the USSR; in so doing, he changed the Convention from a Europe-focussed body (mainly investigating and conserving water birds flying back and forth across the Iron Curtain) to a truly global Convention, open to the developing world, where the concept of wise use is of special importance. After the Ramsar Conference, Iran immediately designated a representative selection of its highly varied wetlands for the Ramsar List and, through changes in political regimes, Iran has remained a strong supporter of the Convention. The national Ramsar focal point for the Islamic Republic of Iran has already paid tribute to the legacy of Mr Firouz. A sad loss of a dynamic, cultured Iranian, whose many publications in recent years show the breadth of his intellectual curiosity.