Refugees from wars, welcomed by people, abused by governments


This video from Germany says about itself:

Germany: Heidenau holds “Welcome Festival” for newly arrived refugees

28 August 2015

Hundreds of volunteers gathered in Heidenau on Friday to host a celebration aimed at welcoming newly arrived refugees to Germany, after last weekend’s attacks on the refugees by far-right radicals.

From Deutsche Welle in Germany:

Cake and politicians at ‘Refugees Welcome’ party in Heidenau

28 August 2015

The party took place in Heidenau after all, despite a police ban that was lifted following a political outcry. As Ben Knight reports, the event was largely peaceful, as refugees gathered [around] a truck full of donated clothes.

Few disused hardware stores in neglected eastern German towns have received this much attention from major politicians in recent years. The Praktiker store in Heidenau, closed two years ago and hastily converted into a makeshift refugee shelter last week, has now hosted three major political leaders in the space of a week.

But the last of these visits, on Friday by Green party leader Cem Özdemir, was initially undertaken in a more troublemaking spirit than the first two. Both Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel‘s visit on Monday and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s on Wednesday were standard displays of political defiance against the far-right violence that made Heidenau the most infamous town in Germany last weekend.

But Özdemir was here to a defy a ban, imposed by regional Saxony authorities on the grounds that “the available police resources are not capable of getting the measure of predicted developments in the situation.”

In the event, Saxony police were spared the embarrassment of handcuffing a party leader, as an expedited court order ruled the ban unlawful, allowing a planned “welcome party” to show support for the refugees to go ahead.

Özdemir milder, with cake

Özdemir arrived, bearing cherry cake, and told reporters, “When I got on the train they said the party couldn’t take place, and by the time I got off, they said it could.” He also struck a much more conciliatory note than during his outraged appearance on the TV news show “Morgenmagazin,” when he accused the Saxony state government of “suspending democracy.”

“I’m pleased that the administrative court shares my opinion, and I think the opinion of everyone here, that there can’t be a state of emergency, if only because one can call for help from neighboring states,” he told reporters in Heidenau. “When there’s a G7 summit, when there’s a football game, [the police] can call for help from other states, why can’t they do it when neo-Nazis and fascists threaten people?”

Özdemir got a much friendlier reception from volunteers than Markus Ulbig, Saxony’s Christian Democrat interior minister, who had to be carefully shielded by security guards. Ulbig, who has been blamed for the failure to prepare for last weekend’s violence and for condoning the police ban, was jeered as he tried to deliver statements to the press. “Get out! You weren’t invited!” demonstrators chanted. “You could’ve come last Sunday.”

“All I can say is that it is good that this party is taking place here today,” Ulbig managed to tell reporters, before virtually being driven from the grounds by angry leftists.

With no sign of neo-Nazis throughout the afternoon, except for an isolated cluster of men who shouted abuse at passing anti-fascists from behind a bush across the road, this was as close as the party came to spilling over into violence. The police also kept their distance, though many were dressed in riot gear, while other units had been positioned around the town and at the train station.

Donations and local pride

In the event, the politicians’ visits were largely overshadowed by the “Refugees Welcome” party itself – which came complete with barbecue, salad, fruit, Özdemir’s cake, “anti-fascists” who juggled, span plates, and sang left-wing anthems, and a bouncy castle. There was also a truck full of donated clothes, toys, shampoo, and toothpaste, much of which was desperately needed in the shelter, which, the refugees said, had only the most basic hygiene facilities.

A few Heidenauers appeared at the party too, as much to defend the honor of their home town as to bring donations. “I was ashamed on Wednesday, when the chancellor came and they [nazis] shouted ‘traitor’ at her,” one old man told DW. “I was a refugee myself – at the end of the war, I was twelve when I came here.”

“People left East Germany after the Wall came down, for much smaller reasons than these people are coming here,” said a Heidenau woman, adding some of grandchildren’s discarded toys to the pile. “I wouldn’t like to have to flee a war.”

The truck of donations, and the party, had been organized by a network of “anti-fascist” groups from Dresden and elsewhere, as well as a refugee group from the Oranienplatz protest camp in Berlin. Among these was Adam Bahar, himself a refugee from Sudan who has been in Germany for three years.

“It was important for us to show solidarity with other refugees,” he said. “But we are also doing something good for Germany – we are showing that people are welcoming, you know, and that they have an open mind.”

Bahar also expressed shock, as many in Germany have, that the authorities have appeared so unprepared to cope with the new influx of refugees. “There’s been a war in Syria for more than four years,” he said.

“I’m really surprised that the people who have the power in this country don’t see this. Instead they make propaganda and say, ‘Ah! Too many people are coming.’ It’s not true – for example in Turkey there are more than two million refugees from Syria – but I don’t see Turkish people attacking refugees.”

True for the big majority of Turkish people; though some Turkish soldiers did kill refugees.

By Marianne Arens and Patrick Martin:

Casualties of “Fortress Europe”: Refugees dead on land and sea

29 August 2015

The death toll among desperate refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East and Africa continues to mount, with horrifying scenes that go beyond anything seen in Europe since World War II.

The vast majority of these refugees are seeking to escape violence unleashed on their homes and families by the imperialist powers, above all the United States, with its accomplices including France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

Once they escape their home countries, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and various countries in east and west Africa, the refugees encounter still more violence at every step: from police and border guards, from smugglers like those who asphyxiated refugees in the hold of a ship and the van of a truck, and from neo-Nazi mobs in Saxony, who were permitted to attack them by German police.

More than 300,000 have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year, more than in all of 2014, according to UN and EU figures. This includes an estimated 180,000 making the short crossing from the Turkish mainland to Greek offshore islands, then trekking through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary, and from there throughout the EU.

The UN forecast this week that 3,000 migrants a day were passing through the Balkans by this land route—an annual rate of more than one million people, the bulk of them fleeing the civil war in Syria, fomented by Washington and fueled by weapons supplied by US allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Another 100,000 or more have made the even more dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, in the course of which at least 2,500 have already lost their lives this year. This toll increased by another 250 Thursday night and Friday morning, as two more ships capsized off the Libyan coast.

At least 150 bodies have been recovered from the twin disasters, involving a small dinghy with perhaps 100 people aboard, and a larger fishing boat loaded with more than 400 people. The Libyan Red Crescent told UN officials Friday that they did not have enough body bags for all the victims of the second, larger sinking.

Most of the victims on the fishing boat had been locked in the ship’s hold when it sank shortly after leaving the port city of Zuwarah, leaving them no escape. About 100 people were rescued alive, and the search was going on for additional bodies among those missing in the sea. The migrants were mainly Africans, officials said.

The International Organization for Migration said that 4,400 migrants were rescued from the Mediterranean near Sicily August 22-23, making it one of the busiest weekends for rescue operations this year.

The gruesome tragedy on the A4 motorway between Budapest and Vienna showed the deadly dangers of the supposedly safer land route for refugees. In an abandoned refrigerated truck lay 71 dead people, 59 men, eight women and four children; a girl who was not yet two years old, and three boys, ages between eight and ten years.

An Austrian employee of the motorway company Asfinag discovered the parked truck on Thursday when attending a breakdown near Lake Neusiedl; decomposition fluids were already dripping from the vehicle. The police had the truck towed to a veterinary border service at Nickelsdorf on the Hungarian border, where police investigators retrieved the dead and examined the vehicle before the corpses were taken to the coroner’s office in Vienna.

The cause of death is thought to have been asphyxiation. The truck’s refrigerator compartment, meant for poultry meat, had no fresh air openings. Dents on the side of the vehicle point to what horrific scenes must had occurred in the interior, as the refugees desperately tried to escape the agonizing suffocation.

On Friday, the Hungarian police arrested four people, three Bulgarians and a Hungarian as the owners and drivers of the truck, after surveillance footage at several tollbooths was analyzed. Since then, the media and politicians have indulged in tirades against the criminal traffickers. According to estimates, each of the 71 refugees had to pay up to a thousand euros for the ride.

People trafficking is only such a lucrative business because the EU member states have sealed up their borders so tightly. They are trying to prevent people who are fleeing war and terror from crossing the borders with fences and razor sharp barbed wire, with rigid police controls and attack dogs.

“Whoever really wanted to put a stop to traffickers would deprive them of the basis of their business, i.e. open up Europe’s borders to refugees,” Florian Hassel wrote quite rightly in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “European politicians,” he added, “are not ready to do this.”

The corpse-filled van was discovered while the Western Balkans Summit was taking place a few miles away at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Chancellor Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with the leaders of six Balkan countries. The aim of the gathering was to agree on better control over the routes taken by refugees and to further fortify the EU’s external borders.

Merkel responded to the news of the tragedy by saying that one should approach the subject of migration “quickly and in the European spirit, that is, in the spirit of solidarity.” How this works in practice can be seen by the fact that her government now wants to declare Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania safe countries of origin in order to more rapidly deport people coming to Germany from these countries.

This had been demanded by German Interior Minister de Maiziere only two days previously. He also wants to speed up the deportation of refugees, cut benefits and replace cash in kind support to deter refugees from coming to Germany.

In Austria, the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives is also moving harshly against refugees. Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner responded to the recent refugee crisis by demanding even more restrictive border controls and that traffickers be punished even more stringently.

The night before on the newscast “Zeit im Bild,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz had called for a tightening of asylum policy, “much more intensive border controls” and “rapid proceedings” for asylum seekers. He cited Hungary, which is building a four-metre-high fence along its entire 109-mile southern border, as a model, and threatened that other EU members, “not only the Hungarians, but also perhaps we [will] take measures which are not so pleasing.”

A five-point plan presented by the Austrian government in Vienna also includes the use of force to combat criminal gangs and IS forces in the Middle East. The EU had already presented plans in May that provide for a military intervention in Libya. This would amount to a further expansion of the wars that are the main reason millions of people have been forced to flee.

The attitude of the imperialist powers toward the Syrian people is particularly cynical. For four years, they have cited the killing of Syrians by the government of President Bashar al-Assad as the reason for a stepped-up campaign of subversion and violence to overthrow the Assad regime. Yet, when millions of Syrians flee the resulting killing field, they are demonized as invaders threatening the jobs and welfare of the European population, who must be deported or walled off.

The 71 refugees who were found dead in Austria were likely from Syria, as a Syrian travel document was reportedly found among the bodies. This means that they had completed an arduous journey of 3,500 kilometres. An increasing number of Syrians are fleeing to Turkey and from there travel via the Balkan route and over the Aegean to Western Europe, since the North Africa-Italy route has proven to be extremely dangerous and the Mediterranean has increasingly become a mass grave.

The authors also recommend:

The refugee crisis and the inhuman face of European imperialism
[28 August 2015]

Bird conservation works, new research


This video is about Dalmatian pelicans in Greece.

From BirdLife:

Scientists prove EU bird laws save threatened species

By Sanya Khetani-Shah, Mon, 27/07/2015 – 16:52

The European Union’s Birds Directive – often believed to be one of the world’s most progressive and successful set of nature conservation laws – has had a huge impact in protecting Europe’s most threatened bird species, according to new research by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB; BirdLife in the UK), BirdLife International and Durham University in England.

“We analysed information on all bird species breeding across the European Union”, said Dr Fiona Sanderson, RSPB scientist and lead author of the paper. “Our findings confirm that species with the highest level of protection under the Birds Directive [listed in Annex I]… are more likely to have increasing populations, and that these results are most apparent in countries that have been members of the European Union for longer.”

While this may sound natural, the study, published in the journal Conservation Letters, noted that as a result of stronger conservation measures, a majority of Annex I species (like Dalmatian Pelican, Common Crane, White-tailed Eagle and White-Headed Duck) are now improving their populations more than other threatened species that are not on that list.

This could point to a need to better implement protection projects for species across the other annexes as well. The report also stated that long-distant migrants didn’t do as well as those flying short distances, meaning even strong conservation measures are not yet able to sufficiently protect birds from dangers along their migration route and climate change.

The globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus Crispus was driven nearly to extinction in Europe in the 20th century due to loss of habitat, degradation, persecution and collision with power lines. However, thanks to the directives, more than 2,500 breeding pairs are now in existence, five times the number of a few decades ago.

White-headed Duck (Oxyura Leucocephala) was just as threatened. There were only 22 left in 1977 because of wetland destruction and persecution, but thanks to strong protection of their habitat and other conservation measures, there are now more than 2,000 in the wild.

Bird species listed in the other annexes are not as lucky. For example, Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa Limosa), despite being part of Annex II, continues to see a rapid decline in population and is listed as ‘threatened’ in Europe and ‘Endangered’ in the EU27. In Europe, the population size has decreased by an estimated 30-49% over three generations, while the EU27 has seen a 50-79% decline.

“Our research proves that, in an era of unprecedented climate change and habitat loss, those threatened birds protected by the Birds Directive are more likely to prosper”, Dr Paul Donald, the RSPB’s principal conservation scientist, said.

The research is being published just days after the closure on 26 July of a public consultation on the future of the European Union’s nature laws. The European Commission is currently reviewing the Birds and Habitats Directives, looking into their effectiveness. Signatures from 520,325 people and 120 NGOs supported the online campaign against this review in the largest public response to any consultation published by the European Commission.

“At a time when the benefits of EU membership are increasingly questioned, this research shows that, at least for nature, the EU is making a huge positive difference,” said BirdLife Europe’s Head of EU Policy, Ariel Brunner. “It would make no sense for the European Commission to demolish legislation proven to work and which enjoys a massive level of support among citizens.”

Read the report here.

Euro Bird Portal, new Internet site


This video series is called Birds of Europe (Western Palearctic).

There is a new Internet site: Euro Bird Portal.

It says about itself:

Unraveling European-wide spatiotemporal patterns of bird distribution

Mobilizing 100,000 volunteer birdwatchers and 30 million new bird records every year

Spring Alive, migratory birds and children


This video is the film Winged Migration (2002).

From BirdLife:

10 reasons for your child to celebrate spring with Spring Alive

By Shaun Hurrell, Mon, 13/07/2015 – 07:40

It is Spring Alive’s anniversary, so we celebrate 10 big years of this amazing movement by giving 10 big reasons to celebrate the arrival of spring with migratory birds.

When we started Spring Alive, we aimed to educate children and adults about migratory birds and their plight. Now we also encourage people and especially young ones to act for the migratory birds they learn about and nature in general. With summer well-underway in Europe and Central Asia, the 2015 Spring Alive season has ended and we look forward to the start of the African season.

Ten reasons to celebrate spring with Spring Alive:

Spring Alive has grown into a popular movement!

73,032 children were directly engaged in Spring Alive in 2014. With a record number of 3.9 million people reached through Spring Alive in 2014, this is potentially a strong force for the celebration and care of migratory birds on the African-Eurasian flyway. …

Migratory birds encourage children to think big!

Recognizing the arrival of migratory birds also brings a broader understanding of nature, and when you notice the seasons more, you enjoy them more!

Some bird migrations are so huge, they are almost beyond comprehension. For local children, Spring Alive brings an opportunity to think globally.

Connection of the continents

Someone in Europe once said that when Swifts arrive in the Spring, they are really just on loan for a few months from Africa, where they spend most of the year. Like migratory birds, Spring Alive transcends country borders and encourages learning about other cultures. The Spring Twin initiative unites school classes in Europe and Africa together in the celebration of migratory birds.

Connection to nature!

There is a lot of growing evidence that children are negatively affected if they do not have a regular connection with nature and the outdoors. Spring Alive events encourage children to go outside, experience new things and appreciate the wildlife they see.

School is boring? You can’t say that about Spring Alive classes

Spring Alive not only contributes to the early education of young people about birds and nature, it makes children love their indoor and outdoor classes and keeps them connected with nature even when they grow up.

Spring Alive Bird TV is more interesting than television

With a live feed to White Stork chicks in Poland, and Swifts in Israel, Italy and England, we have seen a private insight into the real lives of migratory birds. Our video showing the special first moments the BirdLife Swifts were reunited after migration was very popular (over 3,700 views on facebook and YouTube).

Birds will thank you too

This year, Spring Alive encouraged people to make their gardens, schools or balconies bird-friendly to help support tired birds on their magnificent migrations! And there are so many other ways in which birds can be helped. …

It makes volunteers’ work even more worthwhile

Over 700 Spring Alive volunteers visited schools throughout Europe, Central Asia and Africa in 2014. The children’s shouts and smiles were great testament to their interest and how they enjoyed learning about the Spring Alive bird species and how to help them.

It is good for the planet too

Children with a connection to nature are much more likely to care for their environment as they grow into adults – helping support the biodiversity that supports their future. Children CAN make a change, let us show them how.

Here’s to another 10 years of Spring Alive to come!

Spring Alive poster

Spring Alive is an international campaign to encourage children’s interest in nature and the conservation of migratory birds. Spring Alive is organised by OTOP, the BirdLife Partner in Poland, on behalf of the BirdLife Partnership. Wildlife groups, teachers and others who would like to become more involved in Spring Alive should contact the International Manager, Karolina Kalinowska, at karolina.kalinowska@otop.org.pl

Follow Spring Alive on facebookYouTube and flickr.

Save European seabirds


This video from Britain is called BBC Natural World – Saving Our Seabirds – Full Documentary.

From BirdLife:

Troubled waters for our seabirds

By Marguerite Tarzia, Fri, 26/06/2015 – 16:03

Did you know that we have 82 species of seabird in Europe? You probably recognise the most charismatic ones, like the clown faced Atlantic Puffin and sharp blue-eyed Northern Gannet. But there are many other species you may not know because they actually spend nearly their entire lives out at sea and so are rarely seen, only coming to our shores to breed before flying off again into the deep blue. Many of these species are in trouble, facing declines and possible extinction based on the latest scientific information. The current situation is clear: urgent action is needed so they don’t disappear from Europe forever.

Why is the fate of our seabirds so grim today? They have been facing multiple threats: climate change, which amongst other impacts can make it more difficult for seabirds to find food; they often risk being caught and killed accidentally in fishing gear; they are losing breeding and feeding habitat because of infrastructure on land and at sea; they are being preyed on by invasive rats, cats and foxes; and poisoned or choked by marine litter and oil pollution.

Across the European region, which extends from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and Black Sea, 15 seabird species are facing threats so severe that their populations are declining and could be on a slippery slope towards extinction. Another 9 seabirds are waiting in the wings, and although their risk of extinction from the region is a bit lower, they are edging dangerously close to the higher risk categories. In the EU this number is even more alarming, as 21 seabird species are considered to be facing a higher risk of extinction. How do we know this? Well, BirdLife Europe just completed a European-wide assessment for all bird species and produced the European Red List of Birds, the benchmark for identifying species most at risk of extinction from the continent.

Across Northern Europe many seabird breeding colonies which once held hundreds of thousands of birds are merely a sad shadow of their former selves. In some places, such as the island of Runde in Norway, vast cliffs which were once full of breeding Northern Fulmar have seen the species vanish entirely. Across Europe the Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffin and Black-legged Kittiwake are all in decline, and are now considered ‘Endangered’ either within the EU and/or across Europe. Seaducks, such as the Long-tailed Duck, Velvet Scoter, Common Eider and Common and Yellow-billed Loon are also faring poorly, ranked as ‘Vulnerable’ across Europe – with huge declines in the Baltic Sea. These seabirds dive below the waters surface to feed on prey along the sea floor and so are particularly susceptible of getting helplessly entangled in fishing nets.  The Balearic Shearwater is one of Europe’s most threatened birds and their accidental capture in fishing gear has been contributing to driving numbers down to the extent that scientists predict that the species could be extinct within 60 years.

Before it’s too late for our seabirds, we must use the tools that we have to save them, including the EU Nature Directives and EU marine policies. Probably the most important, yet underutilized tool is the Natura 2000 network. This network of protected sites extends across the EU, yet up till now, very few sites have been designated at sea, and even fewer specifically for seabirds. EU countries are not doing enough for seabirds. Only 1% of our seas are currently protecting them.  Also, whilst protecting a seabird during breeding is crucial, it’s only half the story, as most seabirds migrate and travel large distances during the year away from where they have their young. You can read about BirdLife’s assessment of each EU country’s progress here, and see for yourself how your country is doing.

Lines on maps will not bring seabirds back on their own, but with careful and effective management we can give European seabirds a fighting chance to claw, peck and soar their way back up that slippery slope away from extinction. Until then, BirdLife’s mantra on identifying, designating and managing Natura 2000 sites will continue.

Keep Europe’s vultures flying


This video about Africa says about itself:

Vultures Steal Hyena’s Lunch

A flock of big, tough Rüppell’s griffon vultures are more than a match for a pack of hyenas.

From BirdLife:

Keep them circling: a hymn to vulture beauty

By Lisa Benedetti, Wed, 17/06/2015 – 10:52

Big, bald and ugly, consumers of rotting flesh and bone, it’s not surprising that vultures have long been misunderstood creatures. Persecution and poisoning have pretty much wiped them out across most of Europe and elsewhere. But the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and its partners are doing everything possible to make sure they keep circling high above us.

Vultures cast a dark shadow while flying in seemingly never-ending circles. Even if you don’t know much about birds, you probably know it’s a vulture. There are four species in Europe, Griffon, Bearded, Cinereous and Egyptian Vultures. The Egyptian is a globally threatened species, while Bearded and Cinereous Vultures are Near Threatened. Even though they may come across as creepy birds, they do an important and dirty job for us. They eat dead animals which helps stop the spread of some terrible diseases like rabies, which kills thousands of people in some parts of the world each year.

Over the last decades, the Vulture Conservation Foundation has been helping bring these threatened European vultures back to their historical distribution. Probably the most exciting part of their work has been reintroduction efforts where birds raised in captivity are released in strategic locations. Bearded Vulture reintroduction has been especially important because it’s the rarest vulture species in Europe (regionally Vulnerable in Europe according to the European Red List of Birds). It can live up to 40 years and were once found across Europe’s southern mountain ranges, from western Spain to the Balkans, but in many of these places they were exterminated. In the … mountains for example, Alpine people were once so afraid that it killed lambs and small children that a price was put on its head and there was a massacre. The last known naturally occurring Bearded Vulture was shot in the Alps in 1913.

Spanish people called this species the ‘bonebreaker’ (Quebrantahuesos) because this species doesn’t tend to eat meat. Instead, almost their entire diet is made up of bleached carcass bones. Yes, that’s right, bones. Like all vultures, the Bearded Vulture has a remarkable digestive system with gastric acids that are so corrosive they are able to digest rotting meat as well as bones. It can swallow and digest bones the size of a sheep’s vertebrae. And just to show off how smart they are for a bird, if the bones are too large, they fly and then drop them onto rocks below so that they shatter into smaller more manageable pieces. Another odd thing is that while they have black facial markings and black wings, the rest of the head, neck and body are a rich rusty orange. But this color isn’t natural, the feathers are white. For some mysterious reason they rub themselves with ferric oxides, and so give their feathers a different color.

In 1986, VCF released the first Bearded Vulture in Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria, and then began releases in France, Italy and Switzerland. In 1997, the first breeding pair raised a chick in the wild, and since then over 125 wild born vultures have fledged from parents that were raised in captivity. Because these vultures have responded so well, recent efforts have focused on bringing the species back to Spain in Andalucia. Just this year, they’ve released about a dozen Bearded Vultures: in Cazorla/Andalucia, the Grands Causses, the Austrian Alps and the Swiss Alps, and the latest four in the Italian Alps and Andalucia.

This May 2015 video is called Blimunda with the first wild bearded vulture to hatch in Andalucia for more than 30 years.

Because of the efforts of VCF, it’s partners and volunteers, more than 140 vultures soar again in the Alpine skies. Today, the total European population is about 580 to 790 breeding pairs; in the Pyrenees, Corsica, Crete, the Alps, Turkey and the Caucasus. But probably the greatest reward for the people that worked so hard to bring back this species back to Andalucía, and other places in Europe where it had vanished, is seeing released Bearded Vulture taking care of their first baby chicks in the wild.

Save European birds


This video is called Birds of Britain & Europe.

From BirdLife:

Europe’s most ambitious conservation project

By Christina Ieronymidou, Mon, 08/06/2015 – 15:37

Crops and barren fields, alien invaders, and illegal killing have had a terrible impact on populations of Europe’s native bird species. So great, that nearly 13% are threatened with extinction. But the LIFE Euro SAP project, an ambitious effort led by Birdlife International, will soon help 16 of Europe’s most charismatic and endangered birds.

Populations of some of the species targeted by the project have been declining continuously, yet conservation measures have not been reviewed. Under the project, 13 partners from across the continent, including BirdLife partners in 10 European countries, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and FACE, the voice of European hunters, will join forces to change this. Experts and relevant stakeholders will be brought together to update existing or create new Species Action Plans (SAPs). These will be very useful because they will provide the most current information on the species’ status, ecology, and threats facing each species and describe the key actions needed to improve their conservation status and ensure that they do not vanish from Europe forever. The entire life-cycle of each species will be examined, covering migratory routes from breeding to wintering grounds. Any threat they face will be closely investigated so that better-adapted and informed conservation actions can be defined and effective action taken.

Euro SAP, a project funded by the EU, marks the beginning of a new era for bird conservation in Europe, tackling issues on a truly continental scale, through a wide partnership to better protect our species, our activities and the wider biodiversity of our region.

Action plans will be revised for the Velvet Scoter, White-headed Duck, Cinereous Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Dalmatian Pelican, and European Turtle-dove. Some of these species, like Bearded Vulture and European Turtle-dove, face continuing population declines. For the Velvet Scoter, we know very little, except that it is threatened by habitat loss and habitat degradation, and that it is often accidentally killed in fishermen’s gill-nets (bycatch) while it overwinters in the Baltic Sea. Others like the White-headed Duck, Cinereous Vulture and Dalmatian Pelican, have had spectacular comebacks in parts of their range thanks to targeted conservation efforts. For instance, there were only 22 White-headed Duck left in Spain in the 1970s, but protection and restoration of the wetland habitats it depends on have helped bring numbers up to more than 2,000. But the species is still in danger because of hybridization with non-native Ruddy Duck and loss and degradation of the key habitats it depends on. So it, like some other species, still need solid conservation strategies to make sure recovery continues far into the future. And then there is the Yelkouan Shearwater and the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel, seabirds that are classified as Vulnerable in the latest global IUCN Red List, but for which no conservation strategy exists. They are in urgent need of targeted protection and SAPs will be created for the very first time. They are at risk from various threats, including predation, human disturbance and fishing activities.

In some cases, multi-species plans make more sense and have greater potential to tackle the drivers of decline more effectively than single-species plans. This is true for wader species that depend on agricultural grassland habitats for their survival. They are among the most threatened birds in Europe, and their populations are declining in most countries. A Multi Species Action Plan will be created and tested for some of Europe’s lowland grassland breeding waders that are in trouble: the Eurasian Oystercatcher, European Lapwing, ‘Baltic’ Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank. They face similar threats, including habitat loss and habitat degradation, so a multi-species action plan in hand will allow for best use of resources to save eight species with a single combined effort.

Extinction is a scary word because it means losing something forever. But this effort will give us the knowledge we need to put measures in place to ensure that some of our most threatened species are given a fighting chance.