Europe and Central Asia
25 Sep 2018

LIFE EuroSAP brings hope for 16 threatened species

By Gui-Xi Young

With the conclusion of one of BirdLife’s most ambitious projects to date, ‘LIFE EuroSAP: Coordinated Efforts for International Species Recovery’ - and the publication of the project's final 'Layman's Report' - we reflect back on a mammoth three-year collaboration involving no less than nine BirdLife Partners, 65 countries and more than 500 individuals. The goal? To change the fate of 16 threatened bird species. 

The 16 bird species targeted by LIFE EuroSAP are some of the most charismatic to grace Europe’s skies, seas and shores. The Bearded Vulture, the fabled ‘breaker of bones’, has been shrouded in mystique since the ancient Greeks. A pair of gentle Turtle-doves has come to symbolise love and friendship. We marvel at the graceful synchronicity of a flock of Dalmatian Pelicans soaring over the waves. And what is the sound of rural idyll in the spring if not the distinctive notes of redshank, oystercatcher and curlew ringing through the dawn chorus?

 Turtle-doves © Richard Bennett

Yet our admiration has not spared them from the biodiversity crisis at hand. All figure on the IUCN’s Global Red List of Threatened Species. All desperately require concerted conservation action to prevent them from spiralling closer towards extinction.

"LIFE EuroSAP has sought to do nothing short of taking bird conservation into a new, more collaborative era."

The overarching goal of LIFE EuroSAP was to determine science-based conservation solutions for these 16 species through the development of eight targeted Species Action Plans (SAPs)[1] and one Multi-Species Action Plan (MSAP)[2], the latter combining the common needs of eight wet grassland breeding waders. Though legally non-binding, SAPs are vital conservation tools that can help governments comply with environmental legislation and meet international biodiversity targets.  In the past, SAPs were quite often poorly implemented or had become woefully outdated. This is where LIFE EuroSAP comes into play, by creating mechanisms to ensure they are implemented and up-to-date. The project has also promoted more effective international coordination, through which the conservation work done by individual countries can be enhanced.


Read the LIFE EuroSAP Layman's Report


Birds know no borders, and neither should our conservation strategies. LIFE EuroSAP has sought to do nothing short of taking bird conservation into a new, more collaborative era. The project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE Programme, AEWA (African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement) and the MAVA Foundation, was coordinated by BirdLife together with nine European BirdLife partners, VCF (Vulture Conservation Foundation) and FACE (Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU). On this already broad base, an even wider network of over 500 individuals ranging the length and breadth of the African-Eurasian flyways was built – involving NGOs, researchers, local authorities, international institutions and other diverse interest groups, from farmers, fishermen and hunters to schools and businesses.

Cinereous vulture  © Nicky Petkov

Species working groups analysed the birds’ entire life-cycles along their flyways and gathered the most up-to-date information about their ecology and the threats confronting them. After three years of study, these groups have now identified definitive actions that must happen within the next ten years (or sooner) to save these species.

Despite significant differences in their ecologies and habitats, the findings pointed time and time again to the same set of threats facing Europe’s birds: unsustainable farming, fishing and hunting, invasions of harmful alien species, persistent gaps in scientific knowledge, and weak implementation of existing nature laws, leading to illegal killing of birds and habitat destruction.

Ruff  © M. Palenek

LIFE EuroSAP set out to leave a long-term legacy and, in this respect, it has truly succeeded.  The project has set a new gold standard for the creation of single-species SAPs at an international scale and has piloted a promising new Multi-species Action Plan (MSAP) methodology for the protection of multiple species sharing common threats. It has also created a new online tool to streamline SAP administration, monitoring and communication – the SAP Tracking Tool. Via this collaborative platform, users can easily track conservation progress country-by-country or get involved themselves by providing relevant data on any of the species. Anyone can use this open-access resource to develop a new SAP for any other bird species, and it is hoped that, in time, non-bird species will be catered for too.

BirdLife is delighted to see the LIFE EuroSAP project end on a high note with the news that all nine SAPs have been approved by the European Commission. Only with proper, internationally coordinated implementation can the spiralling decline of these iconic birds be reversed on a continental scale. We cannot afford to think of this as the end, but as the beginning.


For a broad overview of the LIFE EuroSAP project's objectives, target species and outcomes, read our newly published LIFE EuroSAP Layman's Report

For further information, visit the LIFE EuroSAP website


Gui-Xi Young - Editor & Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

[1] Monteiro’s Storm-petrel, Yelkouan Shearwater, Velvet Scoter, White-headed Duck, Dalmatian Pelican, Bearded Vulture, Cinereous Vulture and European Turtle-dove

[2] ‘Baltic’ Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Oystercatcher,  Northern Lapwing and Ruff



Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.