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Wader populations decline faster than ever

New Wader Atlas Overview…

According to a new publication by Wetlands International, more than half the populations of waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa are declining at an accelerating rate.

Waders are a group of relatively small waterbirds including species like lapwings, plovers, godwits, curlews and sandpipers. Many of them undertake long distance migrations from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas as far away as Southern Africa. Some concentrate in huge numbers at just a few sites, making these wetlands critical for their survival.

The new ‘Wader Atlas’ is the first comprehensive overview of key site networks for waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa, and the publication highlights a need for better protection of the key wetlands along their flyways, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

The authors outline that whilst many European Union (EU) Member States have established a fairly comprehensive network of protected areas for waders, many of which are Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by the BirdLife Partnership, the protection and management of key sites is still far from adequate beyond the EU’s borders.“Waders such as Ruff [Philomachus pugnax] are heavily protected in the EU; farmers receive thousands of Euros for nest protection”, said author Simon Delany. However, the new publication outlines that resources outside the EU urgently need to be increased – helping to conserving waterbirds at all stages of their lives.

The wetlands of the African west coast are under enormous pressures. The sparse water resources in the Sahelian zone are tapped by dams which have turned formerly shallow wetlands into permanently dry lands. Irrigation schemes for growing human population disrupt the water flow in wetlands such as the shrinking Lake Chad. The atlas also outlines that wetlands themselves are often converted to agricultural use - such as in the Tana River Delta in Kenya, which is threatened by conversion to sugar cane plantations.

“Migratory waterbirds can only be effectively conserved through international cooperation along their entire flyway”, said Dr Vicky Jones - BirdLife’s Global Flyways Officer. “BirdLife Partners are focusing on joining up site-based action at critical sites for waterbirds within the African-Eurasian area”.

BirdLife is a key partner in the Wings over Wetlands (WOW) project which is making an enormous difference to the understanding of migratory waterbirds and their needs, demonstrating best practice in the conservation and wise-use of wetlands, and increasing cooperation along the African-Eurasian flyway.BirdLife is also involved in a new ‘WetCap’ project to help strengthen waterbird conservation and build capacity for wetland management activities at key sites in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania.

“WetCap will promote the wise-use of wetlands which benefit local people by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism”, said Dr Jones.

On the ground, IBA Caretakers and Site Support Groups are working to protect and monitor key sites for migratory birds. “A wide range of activities are being implemented by the BirdLife Partnership to support the development and growth of this local approach to site conservation, through capacity building, networking, sharing experience and provision of seed-financing”, added Dr Jones.

BirdLife recognises that despite their importance, wetlands are amongst the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems.

“In response to these worrying declines, BirdLife has launched the Born to Travel Campaign to protect migratory waterbirds, soaring birds and songbirds along the African-Eurasian flyway”, said Ania Sharwood Smith - BirdLife’s European Coordinator for the Born to Travel Campaign. “Born to Travel is a perfect example of how effectively our unique BirdLife Network meshes together as a united force to take action for conservation”.

4th July 2014