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Despite actions, waterbirds still declining


Global actions for the protection of migratory waterbirds are losing the race with economic development. As a result, many species are rapidly declining. But in areas where governments are working to protect sites along important migratory routes, the results are promising. This is the conclusion of a meeting in the Hague of the ministers for nature in the UK and the Netherlands together with the Secretary Generals of global conventions, supported by the experts from around the world.

On Monday 12 March in The Hague, the UK Minister of the Environment, Barry Gardiner MP, the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality  Mrs Gerda Verburg, Secretary Generals from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the UN Convention on Migratory Species, the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and experts worldwide met to launch a new global guide to conservation: ‘Waterbirds around the world.’ They discussed the need for greater global action for the future protection of waterbirds and their habitats.

The global scope of ‘Waterbirds around the world’ gives a unique overview of the current status of the world’s waterbirds and documents examples of best practice from successful actions taken in many countries. It also presents essential new data from 162 countries on 614 species of waterbirds, including 170 which are currently listed as globally threatened. 

Three years ago, technical experts and policy maker from around the world gathered in Edinburgh to discuss how to protect the world’s migratory waterbirds and their crucial wetlands upon which they depend. The outcome of this conference was the Edinburgh Declaration, an action list for governments. Today, with the presentation of the impressive book ‘Waterbirds around the world’, experts looked back on what has been achieved and look ahead to what is needed.

The key message from the meeting was that despite global conservation efforts, waterbirds are being sidelined by economic development. Too few conservation measures are currently being undertaken for globally threatened species. As a result, many wetlands of critical importance for long-distance migrants have been degraded and many populations of birds are disappearing. This is because of the loss and degradation of wetlands, as well as the impacts of pollution and hunting that can be unsustainable. 

In order to address the decline in waterbirds, the overall need is for inter-sectoral action to halt and reverse the loss and degradation of wetlands.  By using a “flyway approach”, wetland conservation will contribute to the survival of waterbirds as well as to the people’s livelihoods. Currently, most major infrastructure developments take place in ignorance of these implications and many have a flyway-wide impact. International action is too weak or un-coordinated and the range of wetland services and values are largely ignored in planning processes. This is leading to further cycles of wetland degradation, poverty and species loss.  We identify three main priorities for increased global action on flyways:

Take action to safeguard wetlands and waterbirds 
• prevent and reverse wetland loss and degradation at known critic al wetland sites (for biodiversity and local livelihoods)
• implement recovery plans for globally threatened waterbird species
• take international measures to control bycatch from illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries e.g. for albatrosses
Improve international collaboration 
• empower local people for wetland wise use and assist networking between people connected with sites along flyways
• establish and extend formal agreements and collaboration mechanisms for flyway conservation between countries and involving all key sectors
Improve the knowledge-base to underpin action
• identify the critical wetlands for waterbirds and the range of wetland ecological services linked to these
• improve knowledge of waterbird population dynamics at the flyway scale

In Europe where governments have worked to protect sites, species and habitats alon g important migratory routes, good conservation progress has been made although challenges remain here also. In other parts of the world the outcomes are very different.
In Europe, the European Union has been a driving force behind continent-wide conservation measures for waterbirds over a period of nearly three decades. Individual governments have been active and have been supporting wider conservation measures along African-Eurasian Flyways. However, a large number of species are declining notably as a consequence of agricultural intensification. Waterbird and wetland conservation is still a fragile sector of sustainable development in Europe.

In East and South-East Asia, flyway conservation measures are still undeveloped. Rapid economic development has led to land-claim, increased hunting and pollution. Too few species and their habitats are protected. Enforcement of protection is noticeably missing. Inter-governmental co-operation to protect long distance flyways is poorly developed. A shocking example of these problems is in the Yellow Sea region, where a coastal land-claim project at Saemangeum in the Republic of Korea was completed in April 2006. This project destroyed a total of 401 square kilometers of intertidal mudflats, formerly one of the most important wetland sites for migratory waterbirds in Asia.  It was internationally important for populations of the Critically Endangered spoonbilled sandpiper and Nordmann’s greenshank. Further land-claim for development in the Yellow Sea region is planned.

In Central Asia, promising initiatives are now heading towards governmental cooperation on the Central Asian Flyway. A meeting in New Delhi in the summer of 2006 was a good start. The global NGO Wetlands International is leading these initiatives, working closely with BirdLife International. However, many countries in this region have economies in transition, and conservation measures are still remaining a low priority.

North American flyway conservation measures are very much comparable with Europe. Conservation policies are well developed and implemented. Wetlands International’s recent assessment of waterbird population trends (Waterbird Population Estimates 4) shows that these measures do have a positive impact.

In South America and the Neotropics, some individual countries are making progress on waterbird conservation. For example, in November 2006 Argentina and Chile signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the conservation of the ruddy-headed goose along its entire flyway. This endangered goose migrates between the breeding areas in southern Patagonia (Argentina and Chile) and the wintering areas in central east Argentina. However, there is in a pressing need for more international co-operation to progress this work. Mechanisms for improved international collaboration for flyways across the Americas are still in planning.

In Africa, many waterbird species are threatened due to degradation of their wetland areas (due to pollution, land claim and urban developments). However, the knowledge needed to effectively conserve them remains limited. However, activities are now being undertaken via the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement. A good example of this is the UN-funded Wings over Wetlands Project, which is supporting the implementation of measures to conserve the critical network of critical sites that these birds require to complete their annual cycle.

For more information on global flyways:
Wetlands International
Alex Kaat: (Communications Manager)
+ 31 (6) 50 60 1917

Fo r information on the launch and on the Edinburgh conference in 2004; go to >From 12 March, the publication can be downloaded from .

Parters in this launch: DEFRA (UK-government) JNCC (UK-UKgovernment), LNV (Dutch Government), SNH (UK-Government-Scotland), Wetlands International (Global NGO).


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