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New European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

We are almost closing this very strange 2020, a year that demanded so much from all, and for us nature lovers too. It is impossible to ignore all the bad news we have had, but we should definitely enjoy the good news too. 

Today, with the European Bird Census Council, we jointly launch the second edition of the European Breeding Bird Atlas, probably citizen science project ever done in the planet. The atlas is a milestone for nature conservation in Europe, and it involved our BirdLife family for more than 5 years. 
Exaggerating? I don’t think so. Can you name another volunteer-based project carried out over 5 years, covering almost every single territory from Cadiz to Finland, from Georgia to Ireland? Do you know of any other publication based on the work of more than 120000 volunteers?

Useful? Incredibly so. Why? Because it is based on and uses something that all of us, no matter whether we’re experts or school children, can easily understand…MAPS. The European Breeding Bird Atlas does not contain complicated formulas or charts. You turn the page and you get a superb illustration, a short text indicating changes on the bird´s distribution and a beautiful map. No more, no less. You don’t need anything else because when science is solid, it can be easily explained.

The European Breeding Bird Atlas is also a win for civil society. Coordinated by the European Bird Census Council, it has counted on the support of many other institutions, public and private, and the role of the BirdLife family has been simply amazing. For more than 5 years, BLI partners have both gathered data, shared national atlas data, trained colleagues and analysed results. I remember a trip to Ukraine in 2015. The objective was to support the work done by the BLI local partner USPB, but also to train other volunteers and government officials, so they could carry out the surveys. 5 years later, the Ukranian squares are painted blue (meaning they are of good quality). Despite limitations, despite reduced budgets, bird lovers around the continent have delivered a superb work of science, one that will directly impact our next conservation and policy priorities.

If we read all the book´s species maps from a regional perspective, this Atlas is sending us some very powerful messages:

  • It confirms that farmland species, such as the Ortolan bunting, or the Great bustard, suffer from agricultural intensification. Their ranges have been reduced, because their key habitats and food are disappearing.
  • It tells us that land abandonment has favored the regrowth of forest plant species, which has also meant improved habitats for species such as the Black Woodpecker. 
  • It proves that Climate Change is happening right before our own eyes. We have observed a mean northward shift of 28km. Some species have shifted more than others, but can you imagine the implications of this shift, especially for far distant migrants who are being pushed to the limit in their search for food and shelter? 
  • It tells us that nonnative and alien species keep spreading. Illegal or insufficiently regulated trade have meant an expansion of the range of these species, with direct, and in many instances negative impact on our native species.
  • Conservation does work. Whenever we were able to protect key habitats, such as wetlands, we have observed improved distribution of waterbirds. Similarly, those species listed as Annex I on EU Birds Directive or protected under the Bern Convention have done better. This is incredibly important, because if the species improve, so do the services they provide (plague control, seed planting, carrion removal..). In other words, when we invest in nature, nature pays us back in spades. 
  • It shows government officials, and potential donors and investors, the key regions in need of urgent action. Pick your favorite species and you will see where and why their distribution has changed. Tailoring specific conservation projects, ensuring infrastructure takes their presence into account, and guiding sustainable investment can now be done more effectively and wisely thanks to this book.

Christmas is coming, and I cannot think of a better present to ask for and to give. This work was done by citizens, and for citizens, and although COVID means we cannot launch it in an auditorium filled with excited media, birders, scientists and nature-lovers, I know it will soon populate our shelves and reading rooms, because it is simply fantastic. 

Discover more on the European Breeding Bird Atlas and how to order your copy

Image credits: Stijn Smits

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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.