13 Feb 2020

How we’re connecting the dots at the Convention on Migratory Species

This month, BirdLife is attending a major global conference uniting governments, NGOs and scientists to advance the protection of migratory species. Find out how this powerful collaboration works, and BirdLife’s aims this year.

A global map of animal migrations
A global map of animal migrations
By Jessica Law

Migratory species rarely stay in one country for long, so it makes sense that any efforts to protect them must span borders and connect nations all along migration routes. But how can such a mammoth task be achieved? Enter the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) – an international treaty bringing together 130 parties (129 nations plus the European Union) to catalyse and coordinate action. Formed way back in 1979, its mission is to provide an international platform for policymaking and science, striving to conserve migratory wildlife around the planet.

Every three years, the CMS holds a Conference of Parties (COP): a decision-making forum where members agree upon policies, strategies and guidance to conserve wildlife at a national and international level. These decisions set the actions that governments must take to ensure the survival of endangered migratory species in years to come. This year’s COP will be taking place from February 15-22 in Gandhinagar, India.

The slogan for this year’s meeting is “Migratory species connect the planet, and together we welcome them home.” The idea of connecting the dots is central to any initiative to protect migratory species, and runs strongly through the areas we’re focusing on this year. Here are just a few of BirdLife’s key aims at the event:


Connecting countries through flyways


When birds migrate, they tend to travel together along common routes, or ‘flyways’. Countries along these routes must therefore work together to protect them. Ecological connectivity and international cooperation are key components of the new global biodiversity targets to be set at the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference this October, so decisions made this week will feed into a wider global plan for nature.

At the COP, we will work together to address the illegal killing and capturing of migratory birds at priority areas along their routes, and collaborate to further the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan, focusing on encouraging sustainable land use in Africa.

This year we will focus particularly on the Central Asian Flyway (CAF). This is the only major flyway in the world lacking an institutional framework for protecting its migratory birds.  India hosts the highest number of CAF species during their non-breeding period, and so it’s appropriate that this country has stepped forward to coordinate conservation action along this route. India has a great deal of experience protecting migratory birds, especially through their recent National Action plan, which contributes to a wider 2005 CMS Waterbird Action Plan for the Central Asian Flyway. At the COP, BirdLife will support India to lead the protection of this neglected flyway.


Connecting stakeholders with best energy practices

Badly-planned wind turbines can be deadly to birds © Bildagentur Zoonar gmbh / Shutterstock

Moving to renewable energy is essential for the survival of the planet. However, such a large-scale transformation of our energy infrastructure needs to be done carefully to avoid harming birds and biodiversity. To this end, BirdLife coordinates the CMS Energy Task Force (ETF) – an initiative striving to include the conservation of migratory species in decisions made across the energy sector. The ETF brings together national governments, investors, businesses and NGOs to ensure wildlife-safe decisions are embedded at every stage. For example, it encourages sensitivity mapping to pinpoint important wildlife habitats and ensure energy structures are located elsewhere. The task force also explores innovative new modifications to make constructions like wind turbines and powerlines even safer to wildlife.

At the conference, members of the ETF will be inviting further collaboration, especially from donors and investors interested in advancing the next stage of the project from 20201 onwards. BirdLife will be hosting a side event at the COP to further this aim, and will support revisions to two CMS resolutions concerning renewable energy and migratory species.


Connecting insight with action to protect bustards

India is thinking big when it comes to renewable energy: the country is already the world’s fourth largest wind energy producer and, by 2022, plans to install 175 Gigawatts of renewable energy. Analysis by the Nature Conservancy suggests that this will require almost 12.5 million hectares of land. If badly planned, structures such as wind turbines and powerlines could damage natural habitats, including thousands of square kilometres of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas. They could even contribute to the extinction of species such as Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps (Critically Endangered), for whom collision with powerlines is now one of the largest causes of mortality.

Fortunately, across India there is ample land to achieve the country’s energy goals. Therefore, with careful, strategic planning, the nation can meet its renewable energy targets without having an adverse impact on wildlife. BirdLife has pioneered avian sensitivity mapping techniques, using data on bird population distributions to identify areas that developers should avoid. At the CMS COP, BirdLife and the BNHS (BirdLife in India) will promote sensitivity mapping as an essential tool to make the rapidly-expanding renewable energy sector safe for wildlife, both in India and around the world.


Connecting problems with solutions to save vultures

Nepal's White-rumped Vulture populations may be recovering © Jyotendra Thakuri

Vultures are declining at an alarming rate across Africa, Europe and Asia. In order to protect these vital natural waste disposal experts, the last CMS COP in 2017 approved a Multi-species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures. At the CMS COP this year, BirdLife will highlight the success of the plan so far, and encourage parties to contribute further.

The plan has been particularly successful in India and other countries of South Asia, where veterinary painkillers, especially diclofenac, had been inadvertently poisoning vultures that had fed on the carcasses of treated cattle.  “Vulture-Safe Zones”, combining diclofenac bans, breeding centres and safe feeding stations, are beginning to reverse the declines. With vulture declines now spreading across Europe and Africa, we hope that countries across these regions will agree to follow similar approaches, using the solutions that have proven so successful in Asia.  


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