New IBA directories for Central Asia
One of the last and largest gaps on the world’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) is being filled, with newly-published IBA directories for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The 219 sites cover over 20 million hectares of steppe, semi-desert, desert, mountain and wetland, an area almost equal to the land surface of the UK.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan stand at the crossroads of several flyways (the Black Sea-Mediterranean, West Asian-East African, and Central Asian-South Asian). They encompass parts of several major biomes, including important remanants of Eurasian steppe, the world’s least protected habitat.
Central Asia holds at least 530 bird species, of which 20 are globally Threatened. More than 90% of the global population of Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwings Vanellus gregarius, breed in Kazakhstan. Around half all Endangered White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala gather on Central Kazakhstan’s wetlands after breeding, and similar numbers have been recorded in Uzbekistan.
The project, supported by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the UK government’s Darwin Initiative, focused on Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan because of their shared habitat structure and biodiversity. BirdLife’s German Partner, NABU, is leading IBA work in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Ultimately, information on all five countries will be incorporated into a fully comprehensive IBA inventory for the whole Central Asia region.
This IBA project was conceived in 2004, with a regional planning workshop in Almaty, Kazakhstan, involving representatives from all five Central Asian countries.
“The biggest problem was the lack of qualified fieldworkers", said Michael Brombacher of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), the coordinator of the project. "There were less than a handful of qualified ornithologists, not enough either for the fieldwork or for IBA monitoring and conservation beyond the inventory. So from the very beginning, we had to invest in capacity building, by training university students. In the three project countries we have now established 14 clubs, which regularly involve 200 students in monitoring activity. They operate as local groups of the national organizations."
"Measurable results are already visible, with the first IBAs about to be legally protected in Kazakhstan" —Michael Brombacher, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)
The number of IBAs under some form of protection varies from country to country. Of Kazakhstan’s 121 IBAs, 23 are fully protected, and 15 have partial protection. Only three of Uzbekistan's 48 IBAs are fully protected, and a further 14 have partial protection.
Governmental conservation authorities in all three countries acknowledge IBAs as tool to improve the current system of Protected Areas. Part of Khazakhstan’s proposed 490,000 ha, Altyn Dala (Golden Steppe) Protected Area is an IBA. The IBA project was a driving force behind Turkmenistan’s signing of the Ramsar Convention on wetlands in 2008.
A major goal of the IBA project was to build the capacity of local organisations. In Kazakhstan, ACBK has grown into a stable, professional conservation organisation, managing large scale projects with the secretariat of the African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA) and Wetlands International. In 2007, ACBK applied to become a BirdLife Partner.
The Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds (UzSPB) emerged from the IBA project team in 2007, and with the help of the RSPB is being developed into a membership organisation. UzSPB is working with UNDP, to assist with the management of a Protected Area in the Aral Sea region. The foundation of UzSPB was a milestone not only for nature conservation, but also for civil society development in Uzbekistan. UzSPB has also applied for BirdLife Partnership.
"The IBA publications, the information and lobbying work that has been done around it, and the regular training and support of more than 200 students and conservation volunteers in the three project countries, open a major window of opportunity for conservation in Central Asia", says Michael Brombacher. "Measurable results are already visible, with the first IBAs about to be legally protected in Kazakhstan."
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