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Bird Fair Lecture

Sir David Attenborough champions BirdLife International's work to halt extinctions…

Sir David Attenborough, the greatest wildlife communicator of our age, has added his weight to the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme by becoming a Species Champion.

“We have no right to exterminate the species that evolved without us”, Sir David said. “We have the responsibility to do everything we can to preserve their continued existence.”

Sir David chose the occasion of this year’s British Birdwatching Fair to announce that he would be backing work to prevent the extinction of the Critically Endangered Araripe Manakin Antilophia bokermanni. Known to science for just ten years, the bird was first described in 1998, the Araripe Manakin is at risk of making an exit as sudden as its entrance into the annals of the world’s birds. A survey in 2006 led to an estimate of only 800 individuals, all confined to an area of moist forest less than 28 km2 in extent on the north-eastern slope of the Chapada do Araripe, south Ceará, Brazil.The Species Guardian for the Araripe Manakin is the Brazilian conservation organization, Aquasis.

“The small patch of moist forest is surrounded by caatinga, dry shrubland and thorn forest”, explained Aquasis Director Alberto Campos. “Around one million people depend on the forest for their water supply. But the moist forest is shrinking every day because of fires, the spread of agriculture and the development of leisure homes for people who want to escape the hot, dry climate. People have not yet realised that their quality of life, and economic activities such as agriculture, depend on the preservation of the forest, they think water comes from the water company!”

Alberto Campos says a new threat may come from proposals to revive sugar cane cultivation, last practiced in the area a century ago, to meet the growing demand for ethanol for biofuel. Sugar is a thirsty crop, and cultivation would be likely to follow the river valleys up the slopes, threatening the riverside 'gallery' forest the Araripe Manakin depends on.“We believe that the water issue will ultimately save the Araripe Manakin, if we can convince the one million city dwellers that their water supply will be guaranteed if they preserve the moist forest”, Alberto Campos explained.

So as well as the work of protecting and restoring the 'gallery' forest, Sir David Attenborough will be supporting a campaign to reach rural communities, local government officials with the power to grant or refuse development licences, and city schoolchildren. Children from the communities around the forest are working on a puppet show telling the story of the Araripe Manakin, which will be presented to their city counterparts during the annual Arts and Culture Festival.

Sir David’s BirdFair lecture, delivered to a sold out audience at the Peterborough’s Broadway Theatre, described the work of the Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, whose work on natural selection, alongside that of Charles Darwin, helped overthrow the idea that we are privileged beings at the centre of creation, free to exploit the natural world for our own ends.

4th July 2014