By Gui-Xi Young,
From the wild North Atlantic to the Caspian Sea; from the fjords of Breiðafjörður to the Iron Gates on the Danube, from the high Pyrenees to the Kazakh Steppe – how better to bask in the spectacular natural beauty of Europe & Central Asia than with a bird’s eye view? Here are just some of our partners’ highlights from 2016!
2016 was a busy year for the BirdLife Europe & Central Asia family – a partnership of 48 national NGOs in 47 countries. As the old proverb goes, ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ and, together, our local to global approach to nature conservation shows just what the power of many can achieve for birds and people alike. We rounded-out the year with a stunning victory – the safeguarding of the EU’s Nature Directives. But there are so many other stories to tell.
Science: The BirdLife Gold Standard
At BirdLife, science is the Gold Standard; it’s the very foundation of our approach to nature conservation. Year on year, our partners raise the bar for ornithological knowledge and push forward the frontiers of learning – and 2016 was no exception. For example, our Kazakh partners, ACBK conducted their country’s most extensive census of rare geese species and other water birds to date, while over in Croatia, BIOM finished a benchmark three year study of national bird distribution, establishing a whole new baseline for future bird atlases. Meanwhile, many partners have been embracing innovative techniques for data-collection with some fantastic results, such as DOPPS (Slovenia) equipping a White-backed woodpecker with a telemetric logger for the first time in Europe. And in neighbouring Hungary, MME launched its Bird ID mobile app that has been downloaded by 50,000 users since April.
This commitment to evidence-based advocacy has earned world-wide recognition for our network of IBAs (Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas) which are sites of international significance for the conservation of threatened birds as well as other plant and animal species. Happily, thanks to our partners’ hard work, we made many welcome additions to this spectacular network: from Finland’s Baltic coast to the floodplain of Belarus’ River Iput to Lakes Mashankul and Khozhakul in Uzbekistan and more.
Bird ID Mobile App (c) MME
Taking Flight: Our Research in Action
In a bid to protect key natural habitats from man-made threats, our partners are actively engaged in long-term ecological restoration and sustainable management projects, working closely with local communities, other NGOs, government agencies and private businesses to find innovative ways for birds and people to peacefully coexist. Last year, SOS/BirdLife Slovakia completed work with local farmers in Medzibodrožie to pump water back into the drying wetlands of the region. Nature’s response was nothing short of amazing: Great bitterns began to return, several pairs of the very rare Ferruginous duck were spotted, and a whole new colony of waders – Purple heron, Great White egret, Black-crowned Night Heron – was established!
Their success will certainly be encouraging for those embarking on (or continuing) equally ambitious projects in 2017. In the western Mediterranean alone, BirdLife Cyprus will be working to restore the Akrotiri Marsh to the thriving mosaic of diverse habitats it once was, SPNI will endeavour to secure the future of Israel’s Sdom Saltmarsh – home to the only viable population of the endangered Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar – while BirdLife Malta will be writing the next chapter of the Salini Salt Pans’ 600 year history, having recently been awarded land-management responsibility for the marshlands that attract great flocks of flamingos during migration season. There are exciting times ahead further north as well: OTOP, for example, will be developing the eco-tourism potential of Poland’s Beka nature reserve, while neighbour BirdLife Belarus undertakes a huge project to recover over 1000 ha of peatlands in Białowieża Forest National Park, to the certain benefit of raptors, owls and woodpeckers.
Białowieża Forest National Park, Poland (c) Tomasz Wilk
Flights of Imagination: Engaging the Public
Of course, none of this could be achieved without widespread public support. Time and time again, across all our countries, young and old alike come out in full force to enjoy – and when necessary, defend – nature. Last year, our determined French partner LPO continued its tireless fight to strengthen France’s Biodiversity Law by collecting a staggering 669,102 signatures to give to Minister of the Environment, Ségolène Royal, against the use of neonicotinoids – a type of pesticide that has been killing off our bees.
Some fine-feathered fun has also been order of the day: great new events have popped up on the annual calendar, with the BirdLife Finland‘s ‘Finnish Bird Fair’ and SVS/BirdLife Switzerland’s ‘Festival of Nature’ joining more established events such as SPEA’s ‘Sagres Birdwatching Festival’ in Portugal and SOF/BirdLife Sweden’s national ‘Garden Bird Count’ – all attracting tens of thousands of visitors and participants. In Romania, SOR’s popular ‘Bucharest Got Wings’ project saw members of the public place home-made bird feeders and nest boxes all around the capital’s parks and squares – much to the delight of local blue tits and great tits And, who says politics can’t be fun? APB BirdLife Belarus organized an election with a difference – ‘Bird of the District’, with the noble Kingfisher claiming a superb victory: long may he reign!
Some of our partners even managed to get their members to break a sweat: in Turkey, Doğa volunteers ran the Istanbul Marathon to raise funds for the threatened Imperial Eagle; in Belgium, our Flemish partner’s two-day challenge of hiking, biking and canoeing – ‘Expeditie Natuurpunt‘ raised €133,000 for nature conservation projects; and in Israel, SPNI’s fantastic ‘Champions of the Flyway’ competition – a real-time bird spotting ‘race’ live on Twitter – raised $80,000 for conservation projects in Israel and for our Greek partner’s (HOS) efforts to tackle illegal bird killing.
‘Bucharest’s Got Wings’ Bird Feeder Project, (c) SOR
Art has often taken inspiration from the natural world – Camille Saint–Saëns’ ‘The Carnival of the Animals’, Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Young Hare’, John Constable’s great rural landscapes…– and the BirdLife family is continuing this rich creative tradition in all sorts of imaginative ways. Both LOB in Latvia and BirdLife Cyprus held very successful drawing competitions, with both the former’s ‘Bird of the Year’ competition and the latter’s ‘153 Birds’ (i.e. the 153 species affected by illegal trapping in Cyprus) receiving hundreds of submissions. Meanwhile, in the world of sound and vision, there were some quality contributions to film, television and radio. Gregor Subic’s poignant documentary ‘The Endangered Treasure of Ulcinj’ told the story of our Montenegrin partner’s (CZIP) efforts to save Ulcinj Salina, one of the most important bird wintering sites in Europe, from being turned into a luxury tourist resort. On Spanish television, SEO/BirdLife earned more than 5 million viewers for their stunning documentary series, ‘Red Natura 2000’. And BirdWatch Ireland filled the radio waves with birdsong, collaborating with presenter Derek Mooney’s on his ‘European Dawn Chorus’ broadcast, a much-deserved winner of a Rose d’Or (Europe’s most prestigious broadcasting award) for Radio Event of the Year.
Numerous activities have focused on inspiring the next generation of bird lovers and nature conservationists: the Caucasus are leading the way with both AOS’ ‘Bird Camp Besh’ in Azerbaijan, ASPB’s ‘Dsegh Eco-club’ combining birdwatching, outdoor training and classes for young students. And in Belgium, our Walloon partner Natagora has developed a video game about biodiversity that has been adopted by many schools. After all, if children these days can memorize the names of 500 different ‘species’ of Pokémon, then why not 500 species of birds?
Latvia’s ‘Bird of the Year’ Drawing Competition – 2nd Place Winner by Elina Garance, 11 years old, (c) LOB
Onwards & Upwards!
We can all agree that the finest moments come when we finally see species protection measures pay off and bird numbers rebound. 2016 has given us many fine examples to give us hope in 2017. BirdLife Austria celebrated its most successful breeding season for Imperial Eagles and in Georgia, an adult pair was spotted performing diving flights near an artificial nest recently built by SABUKO – a remarkable sighting in a country with no more than 40 breeding pairs. Over in Bulgaria, after years and years of active efforts from BSPB, a second colony of Dalmatian pelicans finally started breeding on Belene Island. In Serbia, BPSSS advanced its decade long struggle to save the Red-listed Turtledove by securing a moratorium on its hunting for another year. SVS/BirdLife Switzerland has also observed a record – 153 breeding pairs of the endangered Little Owl. Going northwards to Norway, there is new hope for seabirds: after concerted efforts by NOF, the government will start its seabird Action Plan in 2017. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the RSPB is enjoying a ‘boom time’ for Bitterns – a thickset heron that has bounced back from local extinction at the turn of the 20th century to near full recovery!
BirdLife Austria celebrates its most successful breeding season for Imperial Eagles (c) Michael Dvorak
On that positive note, we shall draw to a close. While this whistle-stop tour cannot possibly do justice to all our partners’ achievements and hard work, it does provide a lot of inspiration as we move onwards to 2017 and continue looking upwards to the skies. Just look at what we can achieve together – as we proclaimed during the Nature Alert campaign, ‘All for Nature, Nature for all!’
Gui Xi Young is a writer and editor with BirdLife Europe & Central Asia.