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RSPB Helps Kazakhstan conservationists on their own turf

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English soccer stars will be in action against Kazakhstan tonight at Wembley; the most hallowed football turf in England. However, Kazakhstan has its own exceptional turf. For four year the RSPB has been working in Kazakhstan helping the Central Asian steppes, the largest tracts of natural grassland left on earth.

These grasslands are among the world’s most important wildlife sites. Other natural treasures in this wildlife-rich country range from mountain chains and vast lakes to searing deserts. In all, these sites provide important refuges for 34 species of threatened bird, including the Critically Endangered sociable lapwing and Siberian crane.

The RSPB, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan, and BirdLife International have been striving to identify all the important areas for birds in the country. The 121 identified sites have been published in an inventory: the Important Bird Areas of Kazakhstan. These sites of international importance cover around five per cent of the country’s area. However, as Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth largest country, the sites cover an area greater than the size of England. The conservation groups hope that the identification of these sites will lead to their protection.BirdLife International is completing a program to identify all of the world’s most important areas for birds. Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife International’s Director and Chief Executive, said: “Central Asia has for a long time been one of the most significant gaps in our quest to identify and save the world’s most important sites for birds.”

Graham Wynne, the RSPB’s Chief Executive, said: “The value of Central Asia for globally-threatened birds and other wildlife has been undervalued – until now. The sheer size and importance for wildlife of the Important Bird Areas that have been identified through this magnificent piece of work are truly impressive.”

The RSPB is currently working in Kazakhstan on a project to prevent the extinction of the remaining populations of sociable lapwing – one of 190 critically endangered birds in the world. This wading bird, closely related to our own lapwing, has been declining perilously over the last few decades.Kazakhstan, along with small pockets in southern Russia, hosts the entire breeding population of this wading bird.

RSPB researchers have been studying the bird to find why it is declining so rapidly and to learn more about its behavior. Last year a radio-tracking study found a flock of 3,200 sociable lapwing on migration in Turkey, which was the largest of these birds seen for 100 years. This single flock increased the known world population of this bird, giving renewed hopes for its continued survival.

The program to identify Kazakhstan’s Important Bird Areas was part funded by a £193,000 grant from the UK Darwin Initiative of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Swarovski Optik and the RSPB are joint sponsors of work to protect and track the sociable lapwing on its breeding grounds in Kazakhstan and during its annual migration.

The dual sponsorship is part of BirdLife International's Preventing Extinctions Programme, which aims to raise funds and provide support for all 190 of the world's critically endangered birds.

4th July 2014