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Europe and Central Asia

How BirdLife is protecting Mediterranean migrating birds

By Marija Stanisic, Mate Zec and Itri Levent, 10 Feb 2016
Sociable Lapwings in flight. Photo: Mustafa Culcuoglu/Doga Dernegi

Twice a year, hundreds of millions of birds travel along the African-Eurasian flyway from their breeding sites in northern Europe and Asia to winter in warmer regions like western and southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

On the way, they battle natural hurdles like the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert, and man-made ones like illegal killing, power lines, wind turbines, the loss and degradation of crucial feeding and resting sites, and climate change.

Since October 2012, the Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean project, funded by the MAVA Foundation, has supported BirdLife and its national Partner organisations in giving migratory birds in the Mediterranean a better shot at survival by 2020 and promoting awareness of their plight.

Now in its second phase (2015-2017), the project continues to support the development of a growing network of more than 20 NGOs that share expertise and coordinate initiatives along the African-Eurasian flyway, working with local people, governments and the international community.

Below are some of the latest conservation successes supported by the initiative in Croatia, Montenegro, Turkey and Morocco.

Saving the Lesser Kestrel in Croatia

The breeding population of the Lesser Kestrel was believed to be extinct in Croatia since the second half of the 20th century. But in 2010, a small breeding colony was discovered by Association BIOM’s (BirdLife in Croatia) employees near the island of Rab, leading the species to be listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the Croatian Red List. The Lesser Kestrel was also included as a target species for the SPA Kvarnerski otoci, where the colony is situated.

The Rab government was planning to build an airport less than two kilometres from the newly discovered colony on the exact location of its main feeding ground. Luckily, since the location was within a Natura 2000 SPA site, an Appropriate Assessment was required.

The conclusion of the assessment, co-authored by Association BIOM’s Director Krešimir Mikulić, was that a significant negative impact on the breeding population could not be ruled out, so the project should not proceed. BIOM lobbied the mayor of Rab to not contest the study’s conclusion. Subsequently, the idea of seeking overriding public interest was dropped by local politicians. This marks the first time that a negative impact on birds has stopped a harmful development in Croatia, setting an important and welcome precedent in the country’s environmental assessment system.

Montenegro’s double conservation whammy

In June 2015, Center for Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP, BirdLife in Montenegro) and the Montenegrin Distribution Company (CGES) pledged to work together on adapting the Electric Transmission System of Montenegro to environmentally acceptable conditions for nesting birds, with special emphasis on setting up nesting houses for birds on transmission lines.

By October 2015, the transmission lines of CGES hosted 30 houses for the Peregrine Falcon. In order to place the nesting houses, CGES agreed to completely shut down the transmission system on the chosen lines. Seventy more nesting houses will be placed on transmission lines by the end of February 2016 at carefully selected points that are away from falcons’ regular breeding sites.

CZIP’s second, perhaps more hard-fought success, is with the Rock Partridge. A Near Threatened species according to the IUCN Red List, it could be legally hunted in Montenegro between October to December. Hunting organisations can issue permits to foreigners for specific areas, but moving killed animals across the border needs a separate permit. However, this is not well regulated: there is no cooperation among government departments and hunters are a powerful lobby in the country.

But after the joint efforts of the customs authority and the CZIP on a campaign against illegal killing and taking (which included filing criminal charges, publishing press releases and holding round-table discussions with hunters), the Croatian minister of agriculture and rural development has declared a three-year moratorium on the hunting of Rock Partridges. Some hunting associations have also self-banned the hunting of the species.

The ministry’s decision was a result of constant media pressure revealing detailed information on illegally killed and taken birds being confiscated at Montenegro’s borders. The final straw was the confiscation of 20 illegally killed Rock Partridges and one Eurasian Woodcock from an Italian hunter at a customs terminal in Port of Bar, in December 2015.

The Sociable Lapwing finds a friend in Turkey

The Sociable Lapwing is classified as Critically Endangered because of its continued rapid population decline. The current global breeding population is estimated to be as low as 5.600 pairs. The European population is even lower, around 0-10 pairs.

The breeding population is now restricted to the steppes of Kazakhstan and neighbouring regions in Russia. The species migrate south through Turkey to key wintering sites. Doğa Dernegi (BirdLife in Turkey) has been working at the Ceylanpınar IBA, one of the most important stopover sites of the species, for over five years to tackle one of the most important threats that Sociable Lapwing face: illegal killing. Doğa has organised a team of volunteer wardens from local conservation groups (LCGs) at the site to monitor illegal killing activities.

The presence of teams of wardens has dramatically decreased instances of illegal killing. The biggest success has been the declaration of a ‘no hunting zone’ in the Ceylanpınar IBA at the beginning of the 2015-2016 hunting season.

Morocco’s advocacy pays off

As an advisor to the National Commission for EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) for development or infrastructure projects which could affect birds, the Groupe de Recherche pour la Protection des Oiseaux au Maroc (GREPOM, BirdLife in Morocco) advocated against and prevented a windfarm project that was a potential threat to migratory birds, especially birds of prey in the Rif (a mountainous region in northern Morocco).

GREPOM also used advocacy activities to convince the local authorities of Larache (a harbour town in northern Morocco) to allow the restoration of the Lower Loukkos saltpans, an important stopover site for migratory birds and an important habitat for waders. Commitments have been obtained to fully support the saltpans restoration through a project financed by Vogelbescherming Nederland (VBN, BirdLife in the Netherlands) in 2016-2017.