World bird news August 2006

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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.' -Stefan Scheuer, EEB Director of EU Policy

'Environmental groups across the European Union have urged their Ministers to outline the importance of the Directives,' said EEB’s Director of EU Policy, Stefan Scheuer. '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.
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.'

Gas threat to Wadden Sea

Vogelbescherming Nederland (VBN, BirdLife in the Netherlands) is to lodge an appeal against a permit authorising natural gas extraction in the Wadden Sea. The largest intertidal area in Europe, the Wadden Sea is recognised by BirdLife as an Important Bird Area and by the European Union as a Natura 2000 area. But the habitat is already in poor condition, and gas extraction would cause further subsidence of the sands on which large numbers of migratory birds depend.

"This internationally important natural reserve is in a deplorable state," said Hans Peeters, VBN’s Communications Officer. For this reason, the Dutch government has drawn up a strategy for the preservation and restoration of the habitat, particularly the dry high sands, which are vital for birds like Red Knot Calidris canutus and Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus.

"The intended gas extraction will put pressure on this strategic objective," Peeters explained. "It is expected that up to 2024 a periodic deterioration of the surface of the high sands will take place. This decline will therefore hinder the natural restoration of the Wadden Sea for a longer period of time."

To compensate for the drop in sand levels, sand from elsewhere along the coast would be dumped into the sea. This would suffocate the invertebrates on which birds like Common Scoter Melanitta nigra and Common Eider Somateria mollissima depend. "Moreover ‘sight hunters’ will experience a continued hindrance due to the murky, muddy water," Peeters warned. "The effect of sand suppletion has barely been investigated. Without a proper evaluation the permit violates the European Birds and Habitats Directive and should not have been issued."

VBN argues that the authorities should direct all efforts into the improvement of nature in the Wadden Sea. "Gas extraction does not fit that objective."

Aussie battler contends with drought and fires


Habitat fragmentation caused by drought and associated fires threatens one of Australia’s most elusive arid-zone residents - the Mallee Emuwren Stipiturus mallee.

Confined to inland South Australia and Victoria, the emuwren is dependent on significant areas of Triodia - commonly called spinifex or Porcupine grass because of its needle-like 'leaves' -that has been unburned for around two decades. But years of drought, particularly in the southern and western parts of the emuwren’s range, have affected the health of the spinifex and almost led to the emuwren’s extinction in South Australia where the last significant population comprises 100 birds confined to 100 km² of Ngarkat Conservation Park, down from thousands of individuals spread over 2,000 km² in the early to mid 1990s—a 95% reduction in area occupied.

'The Mallee Emuwren’s habitat is now so fragmented that even small fires can have catastrophic consequences.' - Dr David Paton, University of Adelaide

The species’s core population is now found in two key areas in Victoria: Murray Sunset National Park and Hattah Kulkyne National Park and adjacent Crown land, and the total population could be around 3,000 birds. Currently Mallee Emuwren is classified as Vulnerable but is likely to be listed as Endangered in the near future.

'We know from studies of the closely related Southern Emuwren (S. malachurus) that birds are unlikely to disperse more than five kilometres, which effectively means we are dealing with isolated subpopulations' says Dr David Paton from the University of Adelaide. 'The Mallee Emuwren’s habitat is now so fragmented that even small fires can have catastrophic consequences.'

Even within Hattah Kulkyne and adjacent Crown land at Nowingi, fragmentation may be significant: the area is bisected by the Calder Highway, a railway line and a swathe of habitat removed beneath power lines. There are plans for an industrial toxic waste facility at Nowingi and the Mildura Fire plan proposes to burn a 250 m wide strip down the west side of the Calder Highway.

'Unless suitable habitat becomes available as present habitat deteriorates through old-age, compounded by drought and fires, Mallee Emuwren numbers have the potential to decline sharply within decades,' says Sarah Brown, a student studying emuwrens at Deakin University.

New publication for Paraguay's Atlantic Forest


The Atlantic Forest of south-east Brazil, north-east Argentina and eastern Paraguay is one of the most threatened, yet biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. Once covering approximately 1.7 million km2, it has been almost totally devastated, and only 7.4% now remains, mostly as scattered fragments.

In Paraguay, the Atlantic Forest originally covered 80,000 km2 but this has now been reduced to 11,000 km2. On July 19, the Paraguayan Vice President, Luis Castiglioni, and the Taiwanese Representative in Paraguay launched Guyra Paraguay’s latest publication, The Atlantic Forest of Paraguay: Status, threats and perspectives.

According to José Luis Cartes, Coordinator of Guyra Paraguay's (BirdLife in Paraguay's) Site Conservation Program, this book presents valuable information that will support the development of conservation policies, in addition to offering general information regarding the situation of the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay.

The publication was supported by the Forest Bureau, CoA, Taiwan, who recently approved a donation of US$15,000 to conserve and monitor key sites for birds and biodiversity in the Paraguayan Atlantic Forest and to promote the general conservation of Important Bird Areas (IBAs), and in particular of the highest priority site, San Rafael. Publication of the book was also made possible through support from CEPF and Conservation International.

Nepal drug boost for vultures


Hopes of saving Asia's globally threatened vultures have been given a second boost by a drug company in Nepal.

In May, the Indian government said the livestock treatment diclofenac, which is responsible for the 97 per cent declines of three vulture species in most of Asia, would be banned as a veterinary drug within three months. The vultures die as a result of kidney failure.

Now Nepal’s largest veterinary pharmaceutical firm is selling a replacement drug at the same price, prompting the Nepalese authorities to halt the domestic manufacture and import of diclofenac with immediate effect. Until now, diclofenac has been significantly cheaper than the new, safe treatment, meloxicam.

"It is not too late for Nepal’s vultures. The prompt removal of diclofenac and the introduction of meloxicam, along with local conservation initiatives, can bring these essential birds back from the brink of extinction." —Dr Hem Sagar Baral, Chief Executive Officer, BCN

Numbers of the White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis and the Slender-billed Vulture G. tenuirostris have plunged by 90 per cent in Nepal in ten years, and by 97 per cent in India and Pakistan. Indian Vulture G. indicus has also suffered a similar decline and half of all the remaining vultures are dying every year.

The production of meloxicam by Medivet in Nepal, and the Nepalese import and production ban, is a major breakthrough for conservationists hoping to stop veterinary diclofenac use throughout Asia.

Mr Bhupendra Bahadur Thapa, Nepal’s Chief Drug Administrator, commented: "The Department of Drug Administration has now withdrawn the registration of diclofenac for veterinary use, and has informed all of Nepal's veterinary importers and domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers not to import and produce any more diclofenac, with immediate effect."

BirdLife International and its Partners including Bird Conservation Nepal, the Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife in India) and the RSPB have been working for a number of years to bring an end to Asia's vulture crisis.

Start of five major wetland and livelihood projects

Wetlands International
Wetlands International starts five major livelihood projects in wetland areas in Africa and Indonesia. The projects aim to achieve better management of wetland areas in order to secure a livelihood future for local people. Projects linking conservation and poverty reduction are unique.

The projects will show how better management of wetland areas can help sustain livelihoods of the local people, while safeguarding the important values of wetlands suc h as fresh water supply and rich areas of biodiversity.Financial support for the projects comes from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

All the projects are implemented by partnerships of locally based organisations from the conservation and development sectors. They will work in wetland areas along side local communities, government authorities and other organisations. They will also raise awareness of the need for improved wetland management and protection at national and international levels.

The following projects are being supported:
Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park; Kwa Zulu-Natal, South-Africa. Currently, small farmers struggle to make a living by converting the fragile peatswamp forests of this area. This is causing rapid degradation of these threatened wetlands. If this process were to continue it would result in a lose-lose situation in which the forest vegetation will have disappeared and local people having no resources upon which to sustain their livelihoods. Loss of this rare wetland habitat will also reduce the area’s values for tourism, biodiversity and water supply. The project will work with the local communities to develop alternative livelihood strategies and sustainable agricultural practices to provide a way out of poverty and safeguard the wetland area.

Kimana Wetland System in Southern Kenya. This wetland is critical to three large Maasai pastoralist communities occupying some 300,000 hectares of land. The area is also an important wildlife corridor especially for elephants linking two world-famous national parks. These areas are under severe pressure as an increasing part of the wetland is cultivated for agricultural purposes. Unplanned conversion of the wetland system to cultivation is leading to soil salinisation and fertility loss, increasing conflict between farming, livestock and wildlife, and threatens to result in a lose-lose-lose situation. The project will work closely in close cooperation with the Maasai, other stakeholders and local planning authorities to develop an improved management system that balances use between different land use types and players

Chimu and Simlemba wetlands in Zambia and Malawi. The livelihoods of many thousands of people in northern Zambia and Malawi depend for critical contributions on the use of seasonal wetlands, of which those in Chimu and Simlemba are examples. They provide water, seasonal gardening areas, grazing land and reed harvesting opportunities. Because of a lack of integrated planning the wetlands are heavily exploited by some sectors and large parts are being completely transformed into cultivated areas and are consequently loosing their rich biodiversity and water storage capacity. This project will develop a more optimal and sustainable shared use of the area.

Inner Niger Delta, Mali. The Inner Niger Delta is a huge floodplain wetland providing livelihoods for over one million people. Combined human pressures, water diversion schemes, deforestation, as well as climate impacts are resulting in acute food shortages and is jeopardizing the balance of the ecosystem and biodiversity values. The project will work with local communities and authorities to improve management and restoration of the natural resources of the area. Through the use of micro-credit schemes and other innovative financial mechanisms such as ‘Bio-rights’link local people will be financially supported when restoring ecosystem services for the benefit of the whole region.

Berbak-Sembilang, Sumatra, Indonesia. This wetland area consists of two adjacent national parks with mangrove, freshwater swamp and peatland forests bordering the Sumatran coast. It provides many values for local people and the regional economy like fisheries, freshwater, timber and non-timber forest products. However, the peatlands are heavily degraded, and their natural capacity to store carbon is significantly being diminished. This is particularly problematic given the increased carbon emissions resulting from recent deforestation, drainage and fires which contributes significantly to global climate change. This project also aims to use a ‘Bio-rights’ approach link: local people will be rewarded when taking action to achieve sustainable peatland management. These actions of local people will support the whole region and even the global environment by reducing carbon emission and preventing the loss of globally threatened species.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2006 |  World bird news August 2006

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