Globally agreed goals, such as the 2010 target and the Millennium Development Goals for 2015, require a global monitoring system. No such system yet exists for biodiversity, but progress is being made—with birds at the forefront. Birds are easy to monitor, and many people around the world do so, often as volunteers, generating information of vital importance for our future. Overall, birds provide a wonderful window onto nature, a route for environmental engagement and a focus for positive change.
Is the world making progress towards the goal, agreed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, to achieve "a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biological diversity" by the year 2010? Are we on track to "ensure environmental sustainability" (Millennium Development Goal 7) and to "reverse the loss of environmental Resources" (Millennium Development Target 9)? Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell. There is presently no systematic global framework for generating and interpreting data on the loss of biodiversity.
The challenges of setting up a global system for monitoring biodiversity are big. Such a system will have to rely on sampling, since we can’t measure everything everywhere. Bird populations are much easier to monitor than many other components of biodiversity, and many people around the world do so, often as volunteers (). Birds can thus make a major contribution to a global monitoring scheme (). Bird data often exist in the form of extensive, high quality, internationally standardised datasets, some offering continental coverage across a network of sites () and wide range of habitats. In some countries there are long time-series of data, often resulting from annual monitoring (). Elsewhere, local knowledge surveys can provide valuable insights as well as building local constituencies (, ). Engaging communities in the monitoring of biodiversity can help develop local conservation capacity (). Analysis of bird data can provide solid evidence for good practice and help us understand successes and failures (, ) as well as allow us to keep track of general trends in biodiversity.
Birds are an excellent gateway to understanding the environment. Appreciating birds and their conservation problems leads to a deeper understanding of our relationship with the Earth. Building from a focus on birds, local pride in special wildlife can grow, leading to the development of democratic structures, empowering individuals and communities to take control and ensure wise use of their own resources. Birds can thus help to bring about real, positive changes.