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Biodiversity conservation works…

…but more is needed

Conservation efforts have slowed the rate that species are slipping towards extinction, argues a paper published online today in Conservation Biology by scientists from BirdLife International and Cambridge University. Direct conservation action has saved 16 bird species from extinction since 1994 and has substantially slowed the rate of population decline for an additional 33 Critically Endangered bird species.

“Conservation action can benefit species that are on the brink of being lost forever”, stated Dr Stuart Butchart (BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator) and co-author of the paper. “However, efforts have been less targeted towards, or less effective for, moderately threatened species”, Butchart added.

The study focused upon the rate at which bird species of global conservation concern – those listed by BirdLife International on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List - moved between different categories over time, from the lowest threat (Least Concern) through to the most severe (Critically Endangered) and then to Extinct. The research showed that conservation initiatives - such as habitat protection, eradication of invasive species and control of hunting pressure – have effectively slowed, or even reversed, the rate at which some of the most threatened birds have moved towards extinction.The Endangered Norfolk Island Parakeet Cyanoramphus cookii is an example of an extinction averted. Forest clearance had reduced habitat upon which the birds relied, and competition with other birds and predation by rats had taken a severe toll. By 1994 the global population of this colourful bird was estimated to be 32-37 birds, including just four breeding females, all found on the tiny Norfolk Island (Australia). Nest site protection, a captive breeding programme and control of predators resulted in the population growing to between 200 and 300 individuals within ten years.

The parakeet success story echoes the message of the Conservation Biology paper. Conservation action has succeeded in moving more species from Critically Endangered to Endangered than have become extinct.

Interestingly, an analysis focusing on Australia as a case-study showed that the positive impacts of conservation action were even more marked than at the global scale. “This probably reflects Australia’s well-developed and better-funded conservation infrastructure compared to other parts of the world” commented lead author Dr Mike Brooke (Cambridge University, UK).The message is clear. When a species is on the edge of extinction, focussed conservation action and adequate funding can make a big difference. However, many species still face imminent extinction. Step forward the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

A total of 189 bird species remain classified as Critically Endangered – the highest category of extinction risk. The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme aims to raise £19 million over the next five years to improve the fortunes of these birds by recruiting BirdLife Species Champions. “We have had a tremendous response already with Species Champions coming forward from all walks of life – everybody can help!” , said Jim Lawrence (BirdLife’s Species Champion Development Manager).

With a global network of national partner organisations to implement the necessary conservation action, underpinned by scientific analysis showing the successes that result, the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme is making real difference.

4th July 2014