Europe and Central Asia
8 Jun 2015

Europe's most ambitious conservation project

White-headed Duck © Agustín Povedano, Flickr
By Christina Ieronymidou

Crops and barren fields, alien invaders, and illegal killing have had a terrible impact on populations of Europe’s native bird species. So great, that nearly 13% are threatened with extinction. But the LIFE Euro SAP project, an ambitious effort led by Birdlife International, will soon help 16 of Europe’s most charismatic and endangered birds.

Populations of some of the species targeted by the project have been declining continuously, yet conservation measures have not been reviewed. Under the project, 13 partners from across the continent, including BirdLife partners in 10 European countries, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and FACE, the voice of European hunters, will join forces to change this. Experts and relevant stakeholders will be brought together to update existing or create new Species Action Plans (SAPs). These will be very useful because they will provide the most current information on the species’ status, ecology, and threats facing each species and describe the key actions needed to improve their conservation status and ensure that they do not vanish from Europe forever. The entire life-cycle of each species will be examined, covering migratory routes from breeding to wintering grounds. Any threat they face will be closely investigated so that better-adapted and informed conservation actions can be defined and effective action taken.

Euro SAP, a project funded by the EU, marks the beginning of a new era for bird conservation in Europe, tackling issues on a truly continental scale, through a wide partnership to better protect our species, our activities and the wider biodiversity of our region.

Action plans will be revised for the Velvet Scoter, White-headed Duck, Cinereous Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Dalmatian Pelican, and European Turtle-dove. Some of these species, like Bearded Vulture and European Turtle-dove, face continuing population declines. For the Velvet Scoter, we know very little, except that it is threatened by habitat loss and habitat degradation, and that it is often accidentally killed in fishermen’s gill-nets (bycatch) while it overwinters in the Baltic Sea. Others like the White-headed Duck, Cinereous Vulture and Dalmatian Pelican, have had spectacular comebacks in parts of their range thanks to targeted conservation efforts. For instance, there were only 22 White-headed Duck left in Spain in the 1970s, but protection and restoration of the wetland habitats it depends on have helped bring numbers up to more than 2,000. But the species is still in danger because of hybridization with non-native Ruddy Duck and loss and degradation of the key habitats it depends on. So it, like some other species, still need solid conservation strategies to make sure recovery continues far into the future. And then there is the Yelkouan Shearwater and the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel, seabirds that are classified as Vulnerable in the latest global IUCN Red List, but for which no conservation strategy exists. They are in urgent need of targeted protection and SAPs will be created for the very first time. They are at risk from various threats, including predation, human disturbance and fishing activities.

In some cases, multi-species plans make more sense and have greater potential to tackle the drivers of decline more effectively than single-species plans. This is true for wader species that depend on agricultural grassland habitats for their survival. They are among the most threatened birds in Europe, and their populations are declining in most countries. A Multi Species Action Plan will be created and tested for some of Europe’s lowland grassland breeding waders that are in trouble: the Eurasian Oystercatcher, European Lapwing, ‘Baltic’ Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank. They face similar threats, including habitat loss and habitat degradation, so a multi-species action plan in hand will allow for best use of resources to save eight species with a single combined effort.

Extinction is a scary word because it means losing something forever. But this effort will give us the knowledge we need to put measures in place to ensure that some of our most threatened species are given a fighting chance.

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Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.