26 Nov 2019

10 vital bird habitats saved through conservation action

While it is impossible for us to protect every last bit of nature in existence, we can at least throw our energy and collective influence behind saving those that will have the greatest impact to the persistence of biodiversity on the planet. Here are just a few examples…

Ski tourism threatened to slice through vital habitats in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria © Leondeleeuw
Ski tourism threatened to slice through vital habitats in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria © Leondeleeuw
By BirdLife International

Since the late 1970s, the BirdLife Partnership has worked collectively to identify, document and protect the places of greatest significance for the conservation of the world’s birds. We call these vital places Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). BirdLife Partners and other experts have, to date, identified and documented more than 13,000  of these sites in over 200 countries and territories worldwide, and in the oceans, too. These sites provide the BirdLife Partnership, and other organisations, with focus to their conservation action, planning, and advocacy.

This is because birds and other wildlife are not evenly distributed across the world. IBAs cover about 7% of the terrestrial and 2% of the global sea area. Thus, concentrating our efforts on these areas is a cost-effective and efficient way of ensuring the survival of a large number of species.

However, currently around 33% of IBAs lack formal protection, and a further 45% are only partially protected. While these stats are cause for worry, they only serve to highlight the value of documenting these vital habitats so we can mobilise action to protect them.

Our IBA Programme brings focus to our efforts both at local and global levels, and means that while it is impossible for us to protect every last bit of nature in existence, we can at least throw our energy and collective influence behind saving those that will have the greatest impact to the persistence of biodiversity on the planet. Here are just a few examples…

 

1. Cousin Island, Seychelles

© Styve Reineck / Shutterstock

What makes it so special?

Encircled by white-gold sands and thriving coral reefs, this 27-hectare jewel of an island is blanketed in verdant native woodland, with areas of mangrove and a rocky outcrop protruding from the southern half.

Who lives here?

Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum (Endangered), Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis (Near Threatened),  Hawksbill Turtle (Critically Endangered)

How was it threatened?

Cousin Island had been cleared completely of native vegetation and planted from coast to coast with coconut trees. Restoration became a priority on discovering it was the last refuge of the Seychelles Warbler.

Our response:

In 1968 (thus predating IBAs themselves), BirdLife (then ICPB) launched a worldwide campaign to purchase the island outright. In 1975, it was declared a Special Reserve. The island is now 80% native forest, with ecotourism supporting its upkeep.

 

2. Inner Gulf of Thailand

© JJ Harrison

What makes it so special?

Much of the mangrove forests that occupied this expanse of mudflats were destroyed to create saltpans. Fortuitously, these man-made saltpans now cater for important populations of shorebirds in need of rest and refreshment during migration.

Who lives here?

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea (Critically Endangered), Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer (Endangered), Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga (Vulnerable), Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis (Near Threatened)

How was it threatened?

Saltpans are becoming less profitable, triggering owners to sell their land to the aquaculture industry. The ecological benefits of the saltpans was unintentional, but the lack of recognition of their value threatened to ensure these shorebird habitats went the way of the mangroves.

Our response:

Generous donors funded our Thai Partner, BCST, to purchase Pak Thale: the site with the greatest numbers and diversity of shorebirds in Thailand. These saltpans are now a nature reserve, presenting ecotourism opportunities and optimising conditions for wildlife.

 

3. Mutulunganga, Zambia

© Hans Hillewaert

What makes it so special?

The reserve has a sizeable area of mopane woodland, where vibrant birds flit between dappled leaves and hippos and elephants forage within the scrubland.

Who lives here?

African Pitta Pitta angolensis, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo Cercococcyx montanus, Purple-crested Turaco Gallirex porphyreolophus

How was it threatened?

In 2010, two companies were given large concessions to log the mopane, which would leave less than a third of these trees standing. Besides threatening precious biodiversity, this would make local communities vulnerable to floods, erosion and grassland fires.

Our response:

Our Zambian Partner ZOS mustered several NGOs and officially objected to the Environmental Council. Pressure from ZOS and its allies, alongside a community petition with 600 signatures, resulted in the logging project finally being rejected.

 

4. Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

Three-toed Woodpecker © Ron Knight / Flickr

What makes it so special?

The towering Rila mountain range is the birthplace of some of the Balkans’ longest rivers. They flow past glacial lakes and down through verdant, centuries-old forest.

Who lives here?

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Eurasian Pygmy-owl Glaucidium passerinum

How was it threatened?

Tourism, especially ski resorts, risked destroying habitats. In 2007 the government rejected several protected area proposals and started building a ski lift.

Our response:

In 2008, our Bulgarian Partner BSPB submitted a complaint to the European Commission. After a decade of advocacy, in 2018 the European Court found Bulgaria at fault for not fully designating the site a Special Protection Area under the EU Habitats Directive. The site is now formally protected with an expanded ‘buffer zone’ in the foothills.

 

5. Berga Floodplain, Ethiopia

© Environmental Change and Security Programme / Flickr

What makes it so special?

Lush grasses and sedges ripple in the breeze across this high-altitude wetland, part of the vast plains of Ethiopia’s north-western highlands. The Berga River runs through it, feeding ponds and marshes dotted with flowers.

Who lives here?

White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi (Critically Endangered), Blue-winged Goose Cyanochen cyanoptera (Vulnerable), Rouget’s Rail Rougetius rougetii (Near Threatened)

How was it threatened?

Berga Floodplain is the principal breeding site of the White-winged Flufftail. Local communities used to graze their cattle on the wetlands during the breeding season, inadvertently disturbing this Critically Endangered species’ nests.

Our response:

Through our Local Conservation Group initiative, farmers agreed not to graze cattle on the floodplain during breeding season. One farmer even donated 3,000 m² of land to grow trees and vegetables to finance the site’s maintenance.

 

6. Gulf of Mottama, Myanmar

Great Knot © Laurie Boyle / Flickr

What makes it so special?

Spanning this gulf is one of the largest mudflats in the world, bustling with life. The three rivers that meet here supply nutrients to fish and an abundance of invertebrates, which in turn sustain crowds of hungry migratory shorebirds.

Who lives here?

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea (Critically Endangered), Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer (Endangered), Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris (Endangered)

How was it threatened?

Illegal over-fishing caused fish catch to drop 50-90% within a decade, disrupting the ecosystem. Additionally, with no legal protection, wintering birds were imperilled by poaching.

Our response:

Fantastic news came on World Migratory Bird Day 2017, when 45,000 hectares were designated a Ramsar Site after persistent lobbying from BANCA (BirdLife in Myanmar). On the ground, BANCA consistently monitor shorebirds and conduct anti-poaching patrols.

 

7. Harapan Rainforest, Indonesia

Storm's Stork © Mike Prince

What makes it so special?

This verdant tropical forest rivals the Amazon in biodiversity richness. Alongside 305 bird species, it also supports spectacular large mammals such as the Sumatran Tiger.

Who lives here?

Storm’s Stork Ciconia stormi (Endangered), Short-toed Coucal Centropus rectunguis (Vulnerable), Wallace’s Hawk-eagle Nisaetus nanus (Vulnerable)

How was it threatened?

Illegal logging, agricultural encroachment, forest fires and mining all imperil the ecosystem and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. Despite significant progress, our work is ongoing.

Our response:

In an unprecedented legal move, our Partner Burung Indonesia, supported by RSPB and the BirdLife Secretariat, persuaded the government to allow private organisations to manage logging concessions to restore ecosystems. Harapan means ‘hope’ in Indonesian: as the first site in our Forests of Hope programme, Harapan has created the legal framework for other Partners to follow suit.

 

8. Messina Strait, Italy

© Gurgen Bakhshetyan / Shutterstock

What makes it so special?

Messina Strait is an important migration route, especially for raptors. Thousand-strong flocks funnel themselves over the narrowest sea crossing, measuring just 50 kilometres between mainland Italy and Sicily, causing a spectacular ‘bottleneck’.

Who lives here?

Redfooted Falcon Falco vespertinus (Near Threatened), European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus, Western Marsh-harrier Circus aeruginosus

How was it threatened?

This bottleneck used to be a hotbed of poaching, with as many as 5,000 Eurasian Honey-buzzards illegally shot down for sport every year.

Our response:

In the 1980s, our Italian Partner LIPU set up ‘anti-poaching camps’ where volunteers watched over birds and reported illegal activity. Despite threats, violence and even a bomb destroying LIPU’s local office, community awareness and law enforcement have drastically reduced poaching, saving over 85,000 honey-buzzards.

 

9. Lower Hunter Valley, Australia

Regent Honeyeater © Valentin / Flickr

What makes it so special?

This colourful landscape is dotted with Spotted Gum trees, whose bark has a unique marbled pattern. The valley hosts 132 bird species, and proximity to the coast provides predictable rainfall, making it a refuge for two Critically Endangered birds during droughts.

Who lives here?

Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia (Critically Endangered), Swift Parrot  Lathamus discolor (Critically Endangered)

How was it threatened?

Habitat destruction for industrial purposes is a looming threat. In 2016, a proposal to build steelworks on a crucial breeding site for Regent Honeyeaters was approved by the council.

Our response:

BirdLife Australia used extensive research to prove the proposal had downplayed the site’s ecological importance. The government rejected the plan, recognising that it would have put this special bird in “grave peril”.

 

10. Acteon & Gambier, French Polynesia

© Island Conservation

What makes it so special?

These low-lying, sandy archipelagos are home to some of the world’s rarest bird species, including the Polynesian Ground-dove, thought to number fewer than 200 birds.

Who lives here?

Polynesian Ground-dove Alopecoenas erythropterus (Critically Endangered), Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (Endangered), Polynesian Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa (Endangered)

How was it threatened?

The ecosystem was being destroyed by invasive mammals including cats and black rats, who not only ate native birds and eggs, but also competed with them for food.

Our response:

In one of the most ambitious island restorations ever attempted (with supporters such as the Angry Birds smartphone game), helicopters and ships transported hundreds of tonnes of equipment and bait across the archipelagos. Five of the six target islands are now predator-free, and coconut growth has doubled, supporting local communities.