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2022 highlights of BirdLife Europe and Central Asia

by Martin Harper

The year that started with us still struggling to emerge from the Covid pandemic ended in hope that world leaders had grasped the scale of the nature and climate emergency with commitments made at end of the year climate and nature summits. Neither agreement struck was perfect, but the progress made provides enough cause for optimism that we are, collectively, at last trying to find ways to repair our planet.

Yet, in 2023 the obstacles to environmental progress and the stakes have grown…

…the Russian invasion of Ukraine inflicted horrors on the people and wildlife of Ukraine and shaken the policy and economic landscape both regionally and globally.

…signs of climate breakdown grew as demonstrated by flooding in Pakistan, extreme heat waves across Europe and drought/famine in the horn of Africa.

…and bird flu caused havoc especially to our seabird populations compounded the many other threats facing wildlife.

Despite the enormous challenges, the BirdLife family in Europe and Central Asia have achieved some amazing things this year. Here are some of my favourite highlights:

Restoring nature

In the second year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we celebrate the fact that the momentum for the new EU Nature Restoration Law has grown with the publication of the proposal for restoration action to take place on 20% of land, freshwater and sea by the 2030. While there have been political wobbles it was reassuring to hear end of year support from the EU Council of Ministers for the new law, building on commitments made in the new Global Biodiversity Framework. We can take nothing for granted but, given this progress has been achieved by exceptional campaigning from BirdLife, its Partners and other NGOs, I remain confident that we can get this law passed in 2023 and implemented this decade.

We should be confident we can achieve this because we are already doing it.

For example, the Altyn Dala Initiative in Kazakhstan led by our Partner, ACBK, (supported by our UK Partner RSPB and others) was selected by the UN as one of ten mega sea/landscape-scale projects out of >150 nominees as World Restoration Flagships.

And our restoration ambitions are growing thanks in part to the support provided by the Endangered Landscape Programme which has again invested $26m to support seven inspirational projects including three led by BirdLife Partners in Bulgaria, Georgia and the UK.

This is also bolstered by a new programme we have established with support from the Sigrid Rausing Trust and BirdLife Partners. It is called Recovering Nature in the East, or simply RENATE, and will focus on strengthening BirdLife Partners in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and step up our collective impact to protect and restore landscapes across this region.

Supporting those in need

On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and the aggression continues today. This has provided an appalling and constant backdrop to our year. Yet, amidst the immense suffering and environmental destruction, the strength of solidarity amongst BirdLife Partners has come to the fore. Thanks to support from the BirdLife family (partners and our advisory group), we were able to stabilise the finances of our Ukrainian partner (USPB) while our partner in Poland (OTOP) was able to provide shelter, accommodation, and employment for Ukrainian conservationist refugees. This support was extended to individuals from Belarus as our Partner, APB, was shut down by President Lukashenko in March and some staff have had to leave the country.

The resilience of all involved especially the leaders of our affected Partners has been extraordinary and it has been a privilege to do whatever we can to support them.

When the Russian aggression ends, USPB and all of BirdLife stands ready to support the Ukrainian Government to reinvigorate a conservation programme to restore its cherished landscapes for people and for wildlife. BirdLife International remains committed to helping the affected conservation community and is deeply grateful for all the support that has been provided. If you would like to support, you can donate here.

Growing ambition

BirdLife celebrated its centenary this year, hosting its World Congress in the UK and bringing Partners together from all around the world. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect after the Covid pandemic, to reflect on what we have achieved together but also to set our ambition for the next decade in a new strategy.

The need to deliver a step change in action was highlighted in the State of the World’s Birds report which we published in September showing that one in eight of the world’s bird species (1,409 species in total) are threatened with extinction, that three billion birds are estimated to have been lost since 1970 in North America alone, and a further 600 million have been lost in the European Union since 1980.

There is an enormous amount to do. But our joint Wildlife Comeback report (a collaboration between Rewilding Europe, the European Bird Census Council, ZSL and BirdLife International) showed that despite the wider picture of decline in biodiversity across all taxa, some species are bucking the trend and bouncing back (including European Bison, Dalmatian Pelican, Black Stork and Griffon Vulture).

By understanding the main reasons for their recovery, it is possible to generate a recipe for future success: improved species protection, habitat protection and restoration, conservation action over many, many years all underpinned by sound laws, long-term funding and brilliant people.

Tackling the nature and climate emergency and implementing the global agreements requires action from all of us: from governments, from businesses and from civil society.

Within BirdLife, we will continue to do whatever it takes, and I look forward to supporting our Partners achieve even greater things in 2023.

Image credits: Great Grey Shrike / Lanius excubitor by Yves Adams

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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.