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Wader populations decline faster than ever

Posted Tuesday 19th May 2009 at 16:00 by Wetlands International
May 20, 2009

More than half the populations of waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa are declining at an accelerating rate. There is a need for better protection of the key wetlands along their flyways, especially in Africa and the Middle East. This is the conclusion of the Wetlands International’s Wader Atlas, the first comprehensive overview of key site networks for waders in Europe, West-Asia and Africa, launched in London today.

Waders are relatively small waterbirds including species like lapwings, plovers, godwits, curlews and sandpipers. Many of them undertake long distance migrations from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas as far away as Southern Africa. Some concentrate in huge numbers at just a few sites, making these critical wetlands for their survival.

Incomplete network of protected areas
The European Union has established a comprehensive network of protected areas for waders in Europe under the Birds Directive. Outside the EU however, the protection and management of key sites is still far from adequate. A string of wetlands concentrated on the western coast of Africa, (Sahel zone along the Senegal and Niger rivers, around Lake Chad), and in East Africa in the Sudd, along the Rift Valley and eastern coast of Africa, is crucial for the survival of many migratory waders.

Therefore, if EU investment in protecting waders is to be effective, these crucial sites must also be included in its conservation strategy. Wader Atlas author Simon Delany said: “Waders such as the Ruff are heavily protected in the EU; farmers receive thousands of Euros for nest protection. These same birds are for sale in the markets of Mopti, Mali for just 25 cents each! If just a part of the finance available in the EU for waterbird protection were to go to the areas where these same birds winter, a huge difference could be made”.

Pressure on wetlands
The wetlands of the African west coast are under enormous pressures. The sparse water resources in the Sahelian zone are tapped by dams on the Niger or Senegal rivers, which have turned formerly shallow wetlands into permanently dry lands. Irrigation schemes for growing human population disrupt the water flow in wetlands such as the shrinking Lake Chad. Often wetlands themselves are converted to agricultural use, such as in the Tana River Delta in Kenya, which is threatened by conversion to sugar cane plantations.

A similar story can be told for the Middle East. Many waders migrate from the Arctic and Scandinavia to the coastal zones along the Persian Gulf. These coastal areas are now suffering from rapid development which threatens the habitat of the scarce and declining Broad billed Sandpiper, for example.

Highlighting important wetlands
The Wader Atlas highlights the most important wetlands to be protected for each wader population. It will thus provide decision makers across the Africa-Eurasian region with crucial information so that they can increase and better focus their efforts for wetland conservation. Better water management preserving the Sahelian wetlands benefits not only waders, but also local people. Indeed, involving local people in protection strategies for waders has been successful in many regions.
Species’ chapters and high resolution photos of the book can be downloaded from: www.wetlands.org/waderatlas.
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