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Conservation controversy

Natura 2000 key to sustainable European development

BirdLife and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) are concerned European Union (EU) Ministers may support a weakening of the Natura 2000 network at today’s meeting of EU Ministers discussing sustainable development in the region. The Natura 2000 network aims to protect key sites and habitats across the EU under the Birds and Habitats Directives. The two organisations were alarmed by comments recently made by Polish Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in which he called for Poland to reduce natural areas protected under the Natura 2000 network to a “rational level” and claimed the scheme was becoming “so widespread that in practical terms no investments are possible.” Currently, 4.2% of Poland’s land area is designated for Natura 2000 status under the Habitats Directive—well below the EU average of 12.2%—and 7.8% of land under the Wild Birds Directive, still below the EU average of 9.6%. “The Polish suggestion of reducing their already inadequate Natura 2000 allocation is based on the false assumption that implementation of the network hinders socio-economic development of any sort.” Said Stefan Scheuer, EEB Director of EU Policy “Environmental groups across the European Union have urged their Ministers to outline the importance of the Directives. We expect them to affirm the crucial importance of implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives in order to achieve the EU’s stated aim of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 and to put Europe firmly on a sustainable development path. The Polish suggestion of reducing their already inadequate Natura 2000 allocation is based on the false assumption that implementation of the network hinders socio-economic development of any sort.”According to Clairie Papazoglou, Head of BirdLife’s European Division, “The meeting is a great opportunity to examine the opportunities that Natura 2000 offers for job creation, for supporting farmers in maintaining traditional farming practices, for maintaining sustainable ecosystem services, and for helping people living in rural areas.” NGOs and other stakeholders have been excluded from the roundtable discussions. “Participants should bear in mind that major EU funds can be used to enhance the potential of the Natura 2000 network to boost rural and regional development. Member States should take advantage of the EU funds available for the next seven years” said Ms Papazoglou. Member States have invested a great deal of time and effort into Natura 2000, which provides numerous opportunities to maintain and improve the EU’s natural heritage. “It would be disappointing if past misunderstandings and negative sentiments overshadow the discussions,” said Ms Papazoglou. “We anticipate positive outcomes from frank and open discussions. Europe’s future depends upon it.” Charismatic island dwellers saved from extinction

Conservation action saved 16 bird species from extinction between 1994 and 2004. Although they represent just 1.3% of the world’s threatened birds, these successes demonstrate that, given political will and resources, we have the knowledge and tools to turn back the tide of extinction. In their paper How many bird extinctions have we prevented? (Oryx, July 2006), BirdLife authors Stuart Butchart, Alison Stattersfield and Nigel Collar explain how they identified these 16 cases: the first time anyone has attempted to quantify the results of global conservation action in this way for any group of organisms. The majority had populations of fewer than 100 birds in 1994, with only four known breeding pairs of Chatham Island Taiko Pterodroma magentae, just four breeding female Norfolk Island Green Parrots Cyanoramphus cookie, and five pairs of Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula eques (three of which had bred without success). Conservation actions for 11 species were implemented through a mixture of governments and non-governmental organisations, with governments alone responsible for the rest. BirdLife International contributed to action for seven species. “By 2004 some species had undergone very significant population growth,” Stuart Butchart explained. “Norfolk Island Green Parrot increased almost ten-fold from 32–37 individuals to 200–300 individuals, and Mauritius Parakeet ten-fold from five pairs to 55 pairs.”

However, these 16 species are not a representative sample of the world’s threatened bird species, since 10 are confined to islands, where small-scale action can be more effective, while more than half of all threatened birds are continental, and often affected by broader-scale habitat loss and degradation.

Three-quarters of the species could also be considered “charismatic” (parrots, raptors, pigeons, large waterbirds etc.) while just 48% of all Critically Endangered birds would qualify. Butchart suspects that charismatic species may capture conservationists’ attention more easily, and are certainly easier to raise funds for, and to change public opinion about."We need to scale up our efforts considerably to prevent wholesale biodiversity loss and many more extinctions in the coming decades" said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International

At least ten other species would very probably have gone extinct without conservation interventions prior to 1994, and four others survive only in captivity (and are classified as Extinct in the Wild). Thus a total of 31 species would be extinct now without the benefits of conservation. Sadly, these successes are untypical. At least 45% of threatened bird species are judged to have deteriorated in status between 2000 and 2004. While Butchart and his colleagues believe that the 16 species would have gone extinct in the absence of conservation, he warns that they are by no means “saved” from the threat of extinction, and some can barely be seen as conservation successes. Bali Starling Leucopsar rothschildi maintains a population in the wild solely through the continued release of captive-bred birds, owing to the difficulty of preventing illegal trapping, and the population of Junín Grebe Podiceps taczanowskii continues to decline because of inappropriate water-level regulation at the sole lake where it is found. Many of the other species still have tiny populations and are reliant on continued conservation efforts to sustain or increase their populations.

We need to scale up our efforts considerably to prevent wholesale biodiversity loss and many more extinctions in the coming decades. Butchart says. “The examples we have highlighted here show that we have the knowledge and tools to achieve this. Future generations will measure how well we meet this challenge by the number of extinctions we succeed or fail in preventing in the coming decades.”

4th July 2014