Blow to Biodiversity as Migratory Bird Populations Decline Dramatically but Mysteriously

May 30, 2006

Brussels, 29 May 2006

A new report by the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Dutch BirdLife International organisation reveals a severe decline in European bird populations, especially those migrating between Africa and Europe.

The paper, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found that 54 per cent of the 121 species of long-distance migrants have declined or even become extinct since 1970. No reasons for the decline have been identified though general areas of possible cause are targeted for further research.

The paper appeals for action on an EU-level. 'Conservation action to address these declines is required under the Convention on Migratory Species and the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy, to which most European countries are signatories and which aim, respectively, to conserve migratory species and to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010. Our results indicate that more conservation action may be required outside Europe to achieve these targets,' it reads.

The RSPB's Dr Paul Donald, one of the study's co-authors said, 'These migrants are highly evolved and some range over a quarter of the planet's land surface. For species like this to be affected so severely suggests that something pretty serious is going wrong somewhere, which cannot be good news for us. These birds used to be common in Europe but many now are rare or extinct in some regions.'

An RSPB spokesperson added, 'Climate change, drought and desertification in Africa, and massive pesticide use on African farmland may all be to blame for the declines of once common UK birds such as the spotted flycatcher, wheatear, wood warbler and turtle dove.'

Those four areas - climate change, drought and agriculture, particularly in the Sahel, desertification and pest control will now be the focus for continued research into why these bird populations have declined so much.

In an attempt to improve the spread of data on migratory birds, BirdLife and its European partners have organised the Spring Alive campaign, which encourages children to record their first sightings of specific bird species. BirdLife hope this will generate more accurate maps showing how different bird species advance throughout Europe in tandem with the advance of spring.

Abstract of the article

Spring Alive website

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2006
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