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European Bird Conservation Works, Says Scientific Study

Improving fortunes since the Birds Directive introduced…

In the first scientific analysis of its kind anywhere in the world, the RSPB today has shown that one example of protecting birds at a continental scale has improved the fortunes of the most threatened and vulnerable European species – signaling that conservation works, if it is enshrined in law. In a ground-breaking paper published in Science, the RSPB shows that the Birds Directive - a law protecting birds across the European Union - has successfully protected those species considered to be at most risk and in need of most urgent protection and has made a significant difference in protecting many of Europe’s birds from further decline.

When the Birds Directive became law in 1979, the Directive required that a number of species be the subject of special conservation measures, particularly through the designation of Special Protection Areas. Importantly, today’s research shows these ‘special’ species have not only performed more successfully than other bird species in the European Union, but also that these species have fared better in the European Union than populations of the same species in other European countries.Dr Paul Donald, a conservation biologist with the RSPB, is the paper’s senior author. He said: “For over 25 years, the Birds Directive has assisted member states to provide proper protection for those birds considered to be facing the greatest threats. Today we can reveal that this protection has apparently worked.”

There are 46 species that were listed on Annex 1 before 1993 which nest or winter regularly in the UK, and the research has shown that the populations of at least 23 of these species have increased. Notable examples of species which have increased include avocet, marsh harrier, nightjar, woodlark, Dartford warbler , stone-curlew, osprey, bittern and red kite.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “In the UK, the Birds Directive has been pivotal in ensuring the continuing protection of key sites for our most important and threatened birds. Without the Birds Directive, our research shows that many of these birds would be facing a bleaker future through increased persecution, site damage and habitat destruction. “This far-sighted legislation is now 25 years old, but it remains highly relevant today, continuing to integrate the needs of conservation and development.”Across the European Union, the RSPB and BirdLife International hopes this research will encourage governments, especially those of the new member states, to full comply with the Birds Directive.

Dr Mark Avery added: “Europe has a world-class conservation law and there is no excuse for delays in its full implementation. We expect the UK to honor its commitments under the Birds Directive and press on with designating all sites that meet the criteria, especially in the seas around the UK where governments have been pitifully slow in designating Special Protection Areas.”

The RSPB and BirdLife International are warning that insufficient designation and protection of sites, lack of funding for site management and unsustainable agriculture all could reverse the successes of the Birds Directive, perpetuating dramatic declines in Europe’s wildlife. Despite significant successes through the implementation of the Birds Directive, BirdLife International data show that about half of the EU’s bird species are in trouble (Unfavourable Conservation Status), and the overall tendency is still negative. Much of this decline is due to negative effects of land-use policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy.NB The Birds Directive and Special Protection Areas: The EU Birds Directive requires Member States to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds to ensure the survival of the EU’s most threatened birds (194 species and sub-species, listed in an Annex to the Directive) and all migratory birds. Overall, more than 450 species of bird occur in the EU. SPAs form part of ‘Natura 2000’, a network of sites covering about 18% of the EU’s territory, which aims to reconcile human activities with nature conservation. Natura 2000 sites are not fenced-off areas, but encourage sustainable and nature-friendly land-use and business. (More on the Birds Directive and Natura 2000 at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature)

4th July 2014