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Identifying and Conserving IBAs in Lebanon

3-Year Search

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL; BirdLife in Lebanon) and A Rocha Lebanon have completed a three year, nationwide search for new Important Bird Areas (IBAs). In a country critical for many birds - such as migratory soaring birds, species with restricted ranges, and over-wintering waterbirds - Chris Naylor from A Rocha Lebanon said: “3,000 hours of monitoring has more than tripled the number of IBAs in Lebanon, marking the start of the conservation process for these sites”.

Prior to the recent surveys, four sites in Lebanon had been recognised as IBAs. “It was essential to collect more information about our bird havens, and identify more Lebanese IBAs”, noted SPNL’s Bassima Khatib. “Having identified the key sites, we can now seek to ensure their protection and management for the future”.

One newly identified IBA – the Beirut River Valley – covers over 8,000 hectares of riverside, woodland, cultivated ground and high cliff tops. “During the migration periods, more than 70,000 soaring birds fly through the Beirut River Valley IBA, including White Stork Ciconia ciconia, European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus, and Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina”, commented Bassima Khatib. Many migratory soaring birds funnel through Lebanon as they glide on thermals; exposing them to threats such as illegal hunting, water pollution and habitat loss.Working together, teams of researchers from SPNL and A Rocha Lebanon made a total of 320 visits to sites over a three-year period thanks to generous funding from the MAVA trust. Thousands of bird records from sites were then compared against BirdLife’s global IBA criteria resulting in the identification of nine new IBAs of global significance and two of regional significance, with additional funding to support documentation in a database provided by the UK Government's Darwin Initiative.

“From wetlands valuable for waterbirds, to forests and beautiful valleys important for thousands of soaring birds, our united approach has helped to pin-point Lebanon’s bird oases”, added Bassima Khatib.

During the monitoring work, contact was made with interested individuals from local communities who were subsequently asked to provide representatives to attend the IBA community workshops and form Site Support Groups. “The four two-day workshops provided people with an introduction to bird identification and explained BirdLife’s IBA programme, along with the basics of site management”, noted Bassima Khatib.

Site management committees have now been formed for sites with no current conservation status to create management plans for their conservation. To help the local committees set their priorities, the completed project has produced site management statements for each IBA.The completed project marks the beginning in the conservation process for Lebanon’s newest IBAs. SPNL and A Rocha Lebanon are now planning to publish education and training materials for local groups, build their combined capacity for undertaking research and surveying work, elaborate site monitoring programmes, provide networking between the IBA sites and initiate conservation projects for the declared sites. Following a successful regional project ‘Promoting Sustainable Hunting Practices in the Mediterranean’, BirdLife has recently launched a new ‘Migratory Soaring Birds’ project to tackle wider threats to soaring birds in the Middle East and Africa. The nature of the threats to soaring birds and their pattern of migration, means that their conservation can only be achieved by considering land-use beyond the boundaries of protected areas and by involving national economic sectors other than conservation in implementation.

NB SPNL are a key Partner in the Migratory Soaring Birds project who will ensure conservation is incorporated into the production sectors where the threats originate – primarily energy, agriculture, waste management, development and tourism. To remove the threats, BirdLife will engage these sectors in meaningful conservation action, with conservation and biodiversity.

4th July 2014