Europe and Central Asia
7 Aug 2018

The Black-tailed Godwit rebounds in Sweden

After ten years of conservation efforts, one of Sweden’s rarest breeding bird species, the Black-tailed Godwit, is making a stunning recovery.

Black-tailed Godwit © BirdLife Sweden
By Daniel Bengtsson

After ten years of conservation efforts, one of Sweden’s rarest breeding bird species, the Black-tailed Godwit, is making a stunning recovery.  

In 1758, Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus named one of the large waders of his native country Scopopax limosa. Linnaeus was famously the ‘father of modern taxonomy’ and it is to him that science owes its two-term, Latin naming system (‘binomial nomenclature’) for living species. In this case limosa derives from limus, meaning ‘mud’ – quite apt for a species biologically equipped to wade through wet grasslands with its distinctive long legs and long bill. And now, exactly 260 years after its Linnean naming, this particular wader – that many will recognise by its English common name, the Black-tailed Godwit[1] –  is making a stunning recovery in Sweden following several decades of decline.

The Black-tailed godwit is one of the rarest breeding bird species in Sweden and is Near Threatened globally. Although widespread with a large global population spanning western Europe to Central Asia and Russia, the species’ numbers have dropped alarmingly rapidly along significant parts of its range. The root cause lies unequivocaly with the dawn of industrial agriculture. The plight of the Black-tailed Godwit is shared by many other European wading birds, notably the Curlew, Oystercatcher and Northern Lapwing. These species were once a familiar sight around Europe’s farmland but earlier mowing dates are disrupting the breeding season and modern drainage practices are destroying their habitats.

Black-tailed Godwit © BirdLife Sweden

 

Targetted conservation work is desperately needed to reverse the fortunes of at-risk species, and BirdLife is a strong advocate for coordinated Species Action Plans (SAPs). These require close cooperation within a wide partnership of governments, researchers, NGOs and key interest groups. BirdLife is currently the coordinating partner of an EU-funded project, LIFE EuroSAP, which ambitiously aims to implement SAPs for several iconic bird species – including the Black-tailed Godwit – on a continental scale.[1] In Sweden, a national Species Action Plan (SAP) to save the Black-tailed Godwit has seen local authorities, farmers, hunters and NGOs, including BirdLife Sweden, band together to sustainably manage wet grasslands on the island of Öland, just off southern Sweden’s Baltic coast. The work being done here locally fits in perfectly with the LIFE EuroSAP aims and proposed actions for waders internationally.

Wetlands on grazed pastures around the island were restored, providing more available water for breeding waders. Another serious threat to breeding waders is increased predation on their eggs and chicks by foxes and other predators whose numbers have jumped substantially due to the availability of more food resources. Local hunters initiated a voluntary project to sustainably manage the numbers of general predators across a core breeding area of about 200 km2.

Godwit breeding success and population trends have been monitored in parallel to the predator control since the start of the project back in 2007. The breeding success of waders has generally increased in the area where predator control was implemented, though this is also due to a simultaneous outbreak of fox disease which lowered fox numbers. And for the Godwit, this year’s survey brought exciting news. Decades of steady decline have finally been reversed, with a whopping 90 pairs counted on Öland – at least double the number counted ten years earlier. This takes the total Godwit population in Sweden – which had previously fallen as low as 75 pairs – to about 120 pairs. Thanks to the coordinated conservation efforts on Öland, it looks like Sweden could be on track to secure the future of Linnaeus’ ‘muddy’ bird.

 

Daniel Bengtsson

Head of Conservation BirdLife Sweden

 


 

[1] The Latin name of the the Black-tailed Godwit has since been changed to Limosa limosa.

[2] The LIFE EuroSAP project is funded by the European Commission out of the LIFE fund for environmental and climate action. The three year project, launched in 2015, is coordinated by BirdLife International in partnership with nine BirdLife partners – RSPB (UK), LPO (France), SEO/Birdlife Spain, SPEA (Portugal), NABU (Germany), HOS (Greece), VBN (Netherlands), SOF (Sweden), LOD (Lithuania) – along with FACE (Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU), VCF (Vulture Conservation Foundation) and AEWA (African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement).

 

 



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