Europe and Central Asia
10 Jan 2017

Your Planet needs YOU

Cuckoo (c) John Carey
By Iván Ramírez

It’s that time of year again – a time to reflect back on the highs and lows of the year just passed and to look to the coming New Year with hopeful wishes and determined resolutions. In the spirit of this, Ivan Ramirez – Head of Conservation at BirdLife Europe & Central Asia – looks back upon some of the conservation challenges we faced in 2016 and makes his wish for a ‘Happy New Year’ for Nature.

We may not be able to understand the piercing cry of a falcon or the grating squawk of a corn crake, but our surrounding fauna does speak to us in the simplest of tongues – their population numbers. December’s update of the IUCN’s Global Red List of Threatened Species recognised over 700 new bird species, 22 of them in Europe – yet 11% of these species are already threatened.  Through these numbers, nature is tapping out an SOS message loud and clear. We are being called to arms, the question is ‘will we act?’  

The so-called “common birds” are no longer so common; once abundant species such as the Turtle-dove or the Cuckoo are declining at alarming rates (79% and 22% respectively)[1], while the Balearic shearwater – Europe’s only ‘Critically Endangered’ bird – has just been given 61 years until its expected extinction![2] Meanwhile, the Egyptian vulture continues its relentless decline across our continent, with unnecessary man-made menaces such as veterinary diclofenac threatening to wipe it out completely.

A quick look at the state of European and Central Asian nature sites reveals that, in 2016 alone, we identified more than 150 IBAs (Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas) in danger. These are fundamental sites for biodiversity: places where birds, mammals, insects and plants should live in harmony with humans, yet our irresponsible behaviour is pushing them to the very edge of survival. Some of these sites may be close to your home town or village, and yes, the threats are the usual suspects: habitat destruction due to bad land use planning, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, invasive alien species out-competing local wildlife. Our objective for 2017 is clear: we need to act to protect as many sites as possible; Ulcijn salina in Montenegro, Terenkol lake in Kazakhstan or Kaliakra in Bulgaria will see us fighting, and we need your help to make a difference.

So, what can we expect in 2017? Well, once again, nature is being honest with us: on 8 August last year, we reached Earth’s Overshoot Day 2016 (alarmingly, 5 days earlier than in 2015). This is the day we started to use more natural resources than our planet can regenerate. We did this through overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can handle. A recent paper, co-authored by BirdLife staff[3], proved that climate change is already having a severe impact on most of the world’s ecological processes, resulting in “an increasingly unpredictable future for humans.” 2017 could witness reduced genetic diversity in crops, decreased productivity in fisheries, and decreased fruit yields from insufficient winter cold spells.

We face a grim scenario, but humanity is good at surviving, and our job is to ensure we do so by learning from our mistakes and promoting a sustainable use of our resources. I recently read an article about ‘Conservation Marketing’ and one line struck a chord with me: “Without the ability to influence human behavior, a conservationist’s role would be limited to that of describing the loss of biodiversity and the decline of the environment”. And so this is my wish for 2017 – that we ALL become environmental marketing experts, that we ALL become champions for NATURE. Everyday offers us the opportunity for simple, yet important acts – we need to talk openly with our friends, family and colleagues about the challenges we face together, we just need to shake off the dust from our bikes and put some air back in the tires and shop for our food responsibly. Little acts make great changes.

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Happy 2017 to all of you!


Ivan Ramirez is Head of Conservation at BirdLife Europe & Central Asia.

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.