21 Mar 2017

From Rutland to the world

A record-breaking donation has been presented by Birdfair to BirdLife for protecting threatened sites in Africa and supporting tomorrow's conservation heroes

Collared lemur from Tsitongambarika, Madagascar, are set to benefit © nickgarbutt.com
Collared lemur from Tsitongambarika, Madagascar, are set to benefit © nickgarbutt.com
By Shaun Hurrell

Some places are so rich in natural wonders, so extraordinary, so important for people, and yet so threatened, that we must pull out all the stops to save them. Madagascar, the “island continent”, with its flora and fauna so unlike any other, is one such place. Tsitongambarika, then, is even more special: forest unique even within Madagascar, with bizarre-looking Ground-rollers, local species of lemur, and species known only from this site. It is no wonder that this highly-threatened Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) – the only remaining area in the south of the country that supports significant areas of lowland rainforest, but with unprecedented rates of deforestation – has inspired a magnificent donation from Birdfair.

Birdfair, the annual British celebration of birdwatching, raised an incredible £350,000 last year at its 2016 event, and now this special funding is now going to the protection of IBAs in danger in Africa. This money will not only go towards the immediate protection of Tsitongambarika, through supporting national BirdLife Partner, Asity Madagascar, and local communities; but the future of other threatened sites in Africa will be bettered thanks to capacity building of other BirdLife Partners to advocate their protection, and to a new awards scheme.

Scaly Ground-roller © Pete Morris

Dubbed the “BirdLife/Birdfair Young Conservation Leader Awards”, this new three-year awards scheme aims to train tomorrow’s conservation heroes to continue to protect important local sites in the future. Three teams of three young conservationists per year will now receive support from grants, training, and mentoring to build their conservation and leadership skills, with young people from Africa receiving support in the first year.

Madagascar is a special place for Birdfair supporters, beginning thirteen years ago with the support of BirdLife’s Malagasy wetland conservation programme. Back then, the ability of national organisations to conserve big sites was minimal, and the country’s wetlands were on hardly anyone’s agenda. With Birdfair’s help, Asity Madagascar has grown into a skilled and capable protected area manager and advocate for conservation, and has secured protection for both of the huge wetland sites that were discussed back then. No wetland species have been lost from the sites since. Now, Asity Madagascar will be able to realise their long-term conservation plans for Tsitongambarika.

From a field in Rutland, UK, a mighty conservation movement has grown that is making a difference for birds and conservation worldwide – each year an increasing fund for vital conservation work around the globe. In 2015, Birdfair raised £320,000 for BirdLife’s work to prevent the illegal killing of birds in the East Mediterranean. Tim Appleton, Co-founder of Birdfair said: “The first cheque we handed to BirdLife International 28 years ago was for £3,000. It’s amazing that we are now presenting a cheque for £350,000, bringing the total Birdfair has raised for BirdLife to £4.3million.”

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© Jim Lawrence

BirdLife International’s Chief Executive, Patricia Zurita, said: “We’re incredibly grateful to the Birdfair team and everyone who comes to Birdfair for this fantastic donation.”

BirdLife extends a huge thank you to the organisers of the British Birdfair 2016, the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust, the RSPB (BirdLife UK), the Birdfair sponsors and to everyone who supported the event by buying a ticket, exhibiting, and donating to this very worthy cause.

Tim Stowe, RSPB Director of International Operations, said: “This is a unique fundraising partnership: a local charity, the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust, working with a national and international charity, the RSPB, to support vital conservation projects across the globe with BirdLife International.”

In 2017, Birdfair will be supporting the vital project “Saving Paradise in the Pacific”, raising funds for work on the French Polynesian island of Rapa Iti. Here, invasive non-native species are decimating populations of native birds. These include the Rapa Fruit-dove Ptilinopus huttoni (Endangered), along with eleven threatened seabirds. Money from Birdfair will help BirdLife International organise the restoration of these nine Rapa islets to their former glory. This spring, our team will be travelling out to Rapa to scope out the operation, so keep your eyes peeled for more information.

Birdfair 2017 will run from Friday 18 to Sunday 20 August, and tickets are now on sale at birdfair.org.uk

Red-tailed Newtonia © Bruno Raveloson / Asity Madagascar