'No-shooting' shorebird refuge established in Barbados
BirdLife International has created Barbados' first shorebird refuge at an abandoned shooting swamp at Woodbourne, close to the village of Packers. Woodbourne is a four hectare swamp on the flank of the St. Philip Shooting Swamps Important Bird Area (IBA), at which hunting and maintenance ceased in October 2004. Two former hunters were instrumental in securing the lease and financing the initial restoration of Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge. Restoration work started in May and the swamp was ready for the 2009 southbound, autumn migration.
Barbados is an important stop-over site for tens of thousands of Nearctic-nesting shorebirds on their southbound migration to South America where they pass the non-breeding (southern summer) season. Adverse weather in the Atlantic during their flight can force large numbers to stop for shelter on the island, but 15,000-30,000 of these shorebirds – including a number of species of conservation concern – are shot in a handful of managed shooting swamps.
With funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, BirdLife has been working closely with the Barbados WildFowlers Association, shooting-swamp owners and individual hunters to increase the survival prospects for migratory shorebirds on the island. The establishment of Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge is an important part of this broader effort that is helping to change rather than stop the tradition of hunting migratory shorebirds on Barbados. Though a few individuals may choose to remain 'in denial', most hunters recognise that in order to continue hunting, the sport must be sustainable. The old culture of 'kill as many as you can' is being replaced by a conservation ethic among older and younger hunters alike. One leading swamp no longer hunts American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica (which has a global population of just 200,000 individuals), most swamps (seven out of 10) no longer use tape lures to attract birds, and those hunters who maintain swamps year-round (instead of only during the hunting season) are helping provide vital wetland habitats for all waterbirds.
Many individuals have generously provided advice, equipment, and other resources to restore and improve shorebird habitat at Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge. Among them were ex-hunters, hunters, conservationists, and a growing group of 'hunter-conservationists'. The restoration work has also been made possible through support from West Pasco Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada (BirdLife Partner) and the Peter Moores Barbados Foundation. The result is a wetland that is already teeming with birds.
"In a year with little adverse weather to force large numbers of shorebirds to stop for shelter, Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge exceeded our expectations in the numbers of shorebirds finding refuge and in the approval of the neighbouring community of Packers for the restoration project" —Wayne Burke, Barbados Project Manager
Twenty species of shorebird have been observed this season, five of which were USFWS Species of Conservation Concern. A flock of more than 70 Snowy Egrets and a few Little Egrets (and Old World species, now established in the New World in Barbados and Antigua) coming to roost in the wooded 'back swamp' was a highlight. Two Eurasian Spoonbills that arrived in the St. Lucy Shooting Swamps IBA during November 2008 are regular visitors among a host of resident and migratory waterbirds.
Communication and cooperation between conservationists and local hunters is already providing significant returns in the survival prospects of shorebirds. However, this is just the beginning of BirdLife's work. Additional refuges for shorebirds, in concert with a more responsible hunting ethic and the establishment, and adherence to bag limits for species of concern would ensure that Barbados earns a reputation as a haven for passage shorebirds rather than be discredited with notoriety as one of the places where shorebirds are shot. Towards this end, some of the hunters must be commended for starting to release shooting data to BirdLife International for analysis by the Canadian Wildlife Service. This signals a most welcome locally-driven change from unexamined resource consumption to data-informed resource conservation. In the long term, this transparent alliance will benefit all. Not least, the magnificent flights of shorebirds.
To read more about Barbados' Important Bird Areas click here
To find out more about Important Bird Areas in the Caribbean click here
To read the paper Shorebird Conservation on Barbados by Wayne Burke click here (PDF 3 MB)
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