Iraq: war-torn nation or wildlife hotspot?
If your impression of Iraq is a landscape of sandy deserts without a shade of green in sight, then a UK photographic exhibition organised by Nature Iraq (BirdLife in Iraq) and BirdLife International - and supported by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) - will reveal an increasingly different view.
During the reign of Saddam Hussein, the country's wildlife and landscapes were ravaged. But, conservation work by Nature Iraq is beginning to repair the damage, especially the recreation of those wetland and mountain landscapes so important for wildlife and that have been captured for the exhibition.
Azzam Alwash, is Nature Iraq's chief executive. Visiting the UK to attend the exhibition, he said: "Perhaps too many people are blinkered by the TV coverage to think of Iraq as anything other than a war-torn nation. But we hope this exhibition with its images of my country's scenery and special wildlife will help people look at Iraq with fresh eyes."
“… images of my country’s scenery and special wildlife will help people look at Iraq with fresh eyes” —Azzam Alwash, Nature Iraq’s Chief Executive
Richard Porter - BirdLife's Middle East advisor - has helped bring the exhibition to the UK. Working in the Middle East and Iraq for many years, he said: "It is truly inspirational what Iraqi conservationists have managed to achieve in such a short space of time against overwhelming odds."
One of Nature Iraq's main achievements has been the summer and winter surveys of the Mesopotamian Marshes and other key wildlife hotspots to help identify key areas for wildlife conservation.
In the marshes, which were heavily drained during the Saddam Hussein era, the surveys have revealed an increase in the number of threatened species, such as the marbled teal, an exquisite duck that is seriously threatened. Recent surveys have revealed over 40,000 Marbled Teal - most of the world population of this Vulnerable species - visit the marshes, but a conservation problem is that these ducks are also heavily persecuted by local people.
“It is truly inspirational what Nature Iraq conservationists have managed to achieve” —Richard Porter, BirdLife’s Middle East Advisor
Richard Porter added: "Before being drained, the marshes, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, teemed with life. Our exhibition shows the revival of these wetland areas and the wildlife that occurs there, but it also highlights the persecution issue as one image shows a group of the birds on open sale in an Iraqi market."
Dr Alwash added: "The long-term future for the marshes - the Danube of the Middle East - rests with managing the region's most precious resource: water. Dams upstream in Turkey, Syria and further north in Iraq threaten the future of the wetland and the wildlife that thrives here."
The exhibition, which is open now runs till July 25, at the Birdscapes Gallery in Glandford, near Holt, Norfolk.
BirdLife would like to thank the BIRDscapes Gallery for hosting and organising this exhibition, and enabling all profits to go to the conservation work of Nature Iraq. The Italian Government is the major funder of Nature Iraq's programme.