4 May 2018

Don’t get in a flap, get into FLAP: a new platform for migratory landbirds

The Friends of Landbirds Action Plan (FLAP for short), created by BirdLife and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), encourages people from all walks of life to share information, educate and spread the word to protect our landbirds on their migration over vast continents. And you’re invited.

The Barn Swallow crosses the Sahara Desert on its migration © Derek Keats
The Barn Swallow crosses the Sahara Desert on its migration © Derek Keats
By Jessica Law

Much of our publicity has focused on the plight of migratory waterbirds, from Spoonie the Spoon-billed Sandpiper to Rowan the Red Knot. But we haven’t forgotten about landbirds. Not by a long shot. These are the birds that we’re likely to come across in our day to day lives, in our gardens and farmland, whose arrival, for many, heralds the changing of the seasons.

What we often forget is that these birds have arrived after making a positively heroic voyage across continents – often, as in the case of the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, making the gruelling journey across the the Sahara desert. The Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus sometimes travels non-stop for 3,700km over the Arabian Sea to East Africa, as part of a 34,000km round trip between Mongolia and Mozambique.

But what would the seasons be like without these yearly visitors? Sadly, we risk finding out. The Sahel, the region south of the Sahara that many of these birds overwinter in, is changing – and not in a good way. Farmland is expanding, bringing with it over-grazing and habitat destruction. Human settlements are encroaching. But it’s not just a problem in Africa – in Europe, agriculture has become more industrialised, making fields a hostile monoculture.


The Sahel, a wintering site for species like the Common Cuckoo, is being destroyed © Ron Knight


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Illegal bird killing is an equally formidable problem. The Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola (Critically Endangered), whose range once stretched from Finland to Japan, has seen a population decline of 90% over the past 30 years primarily for this reason. Landbirds all over the world are hit hard by this practice. The House Sparrow Passer domesticus, Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs and Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis are among the most illegally-killed species in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Caucasus. The death toll runs into millions annually: about 4.7 million for House Sparrows alone.

These, combined with collisions with man-made structures and disease outbreaks, have led to some dramatic population declines. Something needed to be done.

And so, in 2014, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) passed their first ever resolution aimed directly at migratory landbirds, producing the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan (AEMLAP). The main aim of the plan is to work with local people on the ground, helping them to tackle the threats that migratory landbirds face. The plan welcomes all: organizations, policy makers, researchers, educators, birdwatchers and more.

And that’s where you come in. Because public awareness and education are vitally important in making this plan work.

"The FLAP platform will serve as a hub for everyone in Africa and Eurasia who cares about their migratory landbirds to exchange information and education, so we can more effectively tackle these threats,” says BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita.

If you’re concerned about your local birds, if you want to make your land more bird-friendly, or just spread the word, FLAP is the place for you

"If you care about your local migratory birds, if you want to manage your forest or farmland to the benefit of both birds and your economic interests, if you enjoy watching migratory birds wherever you find them, FLAP is the place for you to share your interests and concerns about these birds, learn more about them and find out what you can do to help”, said Alex Ngari, Project Leader.

So if you are a student, a parent, a land user, a politician, a law maker, a business person, a conservationist, a teacher, a scientist, or you just have concerns about our biodiversity, you are invited to join FLAP. You are encouraged to talk to each other. That way, we can create a movement that is greater than the sum of its parts, making sure that these iconic signs of spring will still be there for our children to enjoy.


Joining FLAP

FLAP is currently on Twitter, Whatsapp and Facebook, with the latter being most active.

Joining is simple: go to http://www.birdlife.org/africa/friends-landbirds-action-plan-flap

And you will find links to all the three. Click, join, like, post something and remember to spread the news about FLAP.