Tag Archives: conservation

Population trends, threats, and conservation recommendations for waterbirds in China

(Xiaodan Wang, Fenliang Kuang, Kun Tan and Zhijun M 28 April 2018)


China is one of the countries with abundant waterbird diversity. Over the past decades, China’s waterbirds have suffered increasing threats from direct and indirect human activities. It is important to clarify the population trends of and threats to waterbirds as well as to put forward conservation recommendations.


We collected data of population trends of a total of 260 waterbird species in China from Wetlands International database. We calculated the number of species with increasing, declining, stable, and unknown trends. We collected threatened levels of waterbirds from the Red List of China’s Vertebrates (2016), which was compiled according to the IUCN criteria of threatened species. Based on literature review, we refined the major threats to the threatened waterbird species in China.


Of the total 260 waterbird species in China, 84 species (32.3%) exhibited declining, 35 species (13.5%) kept stable, and 16 species (6.2%) showed increasing trends. Population trends were unknown for 125 species (48.1%). There was no significant difference in population trends between the migratory (32.4% decline) and resident (31.8% decline) species or among waterbirds distributed exclusively along coasts (28.6% decline), inland (36.6% decline), and both coasts and inland (32.5% decline). A total of 38 species (15.1% of the total) were listed as threatened species and 27 species (10.8% of the total) Near Threatened species. Habitat loss was the major threat to waterbirds, with 32 of the total 38 (84.2%) threatened species being affected. In addition, 73.7% (28 species), 71.1% (27 species), and 57.9% (22 species) of the threatened species were affected by human disturbance, environmental pollution, and illegal hunting, respectively.


We propose recommendations for waterbird conservation, including (1) strengthening conservation of nature wetlands and restoration of degraded wetlands, (2) enhancing public awareness on waterbird conservation, (3) improving the enforcement of Wildlife Protection Law and cracking down on illegal hunting, (4) carrying out long-term waterbird surveys to clarify population dynamics, (5) restoring populations of highly-threatened species through artificial intervention, and (6) promoting international and regional exchanges and cooperation to share information in waterbirds and their conservation.



A total of 38 species (14.6% of the total) have been listed as threatened species, including 6 species (2.4%) being listed as Critically Endangered, 16 species (6.4%) Endangered, and 16 species Vulnerable (6.4%). Another 27 species (10.8%) were listed as Near Threatened (Table 2). In addition, 54 species (21.5%) were not assessed due to data deficiency or their marginal distribution in China. The threatened species were mainly in the Orders of Gruiformes (10 species), Charadriiformes (10 species), Anseriformes (8 species), and Pelecaniformes (8 species). The highest proportion of threatened species was in the Order of Ciconiiformes (40.0%) (Table 3). Although the percentage of threatened waterbird species in China (15.1% of the total) was slightly lower than that the global level (18.8%) (Wetland International 2012), the percentage of non-assessed species in China (21.5%) was much higher than that globally (0.4%).TABELL.PNG

Read the complete research report here

Rare birds return to safer, better managed Seshachalam

Thanks to steps taken by A.P. forest department and changing weather conditions, many species that had abandoned the region are back

Chances are that your casual photo shoot along the Srivari Mettu (the old route by steps from Tirupati to Tirumala) in Andhra Pradesh will capture some avian species that went missing a few years ago.

The birds are back due to the improved ecosystem, say ornithologists and officials of the forest department. They claim that protective measures and changing weather have brought back the birds which abandoned the forest, along with new ones from distant Western Ghats.

Black-hooded Oriole ( Oriolus xanthornus which belongs to the corvidae family), a common resident bird of Seshachalam forest in the Eastern Ghats, went missing over three years ago. But a few of them were captured in a bunch of photographs by The Hindu along the route to Tirumala.

Seen after 3 years

Besides India, the Black-hooded Oriole is seen in Srilanka and Indonesia. The Oriole, along with other species such as Golden Oriole, Black-naped Monarch and Indian Nightjar, had gone away from the region about three years ago due to increased red sanders felling and smuggling, and hostile weather conditions, according to Tirupati-based ornithologist, Karthik Sai.

“Many avian species disappeared a few years ago due to increased human activity, smuggling and fast changing weather conditions in the reserve forest. But, of late, we have seen the birds coming back due to favourable weather and ecological conditions. To our surprise, we see a bunch of Brahminy kites ( Haliastur indus, called Tella Garuda Pakshi in Telugu) in the Kalyani Dam area. This species is specific to the Western Ghats but has been sighted here, perhaps due to the improving habitat,” Mr. Karthik said.

Efforts at conservation

The efforts by the Forest Department in conserving the environment are yielding results, claimed the Deputy Conservator of Forests and Special Task Force for Red Sanders Protection, B.N.N. Murthy. “There has been a lot of improvement in wildlife management and conservation here. We are restoring more water bodies and ensuring the availability of food as part of our efforts. Several ground-nesting birds are protected through fire-lines (fire barriers to prevent forest fires), water holes and pits,” Mr. Murthy said.

Besides disturbance due to red sanders smuggling, many species, especially the ground-nesters, were threatened by people who consumed them, causing their mass migration or near-extinction, he said.

According to a research paper submitted in 2014 by the Bio Lab of Seshachalam Hills, Sri Venkateswara University and Forests, Wildlife Management Circle, Tirupati, Seshachalam forest is home to 215 species of birds, which belong to 45 families.

Giant squirrel

Some of the avian species such as Emerald Dove and Painted Spurfowl — described as “uncommon” by the researchers — are now frequently sighted along the old Tirumala steps route according to the locals. This apart, the beautiful Indian giant squirrel ( Ratufa indica ) is also a common sight on the other side of the forest in Tirumala.

The Seshachalam forest, one of the richest regions in terms of biodiversity, could have received much more protection and care but for the paucity of funds and lack of financial support. The funding for the entire region is approximately in the tune of Rs. 50 crore which is negligible according to a top forest department official.

“The Western Ghats alone get about Rs. 1,000 crore compared to the Rs. 200 crore overall budget for the protection of forests in our State (Andhra Pradesh). We need at least Rs. 500 crore for the protection of the Seshachalam forest. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, the State and the Central governments should focus more on this rare biosphere,” said the official.

How we’re saving the kings of the ocean

wandering_albatross.jpg(Stephanie Winnard 22 June 2017)

It has been another busy year for the Albatross Task Force, and our teams have made good progress in reducing the bycatch of vulnerable seabirds in some of the world’s most deadly fisheries

Albatrosses are one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world, with 15 of 22 species currently at risk of extinction. One of the major causes of their decline is being caught accidentally as bycatch on baited longline hooks or struck by trawl cables and dragged under the water.

Horrifyingly it’s estimated that around 100,000 albatross die every year in longline and trawl fisheries around the globe. For birds that are long-lived yet slow to breed, these deaths have lead to huge population declines with some colonies having halved in size since the 1990’s.

To combat these needless deaths the Albatross Task Force was set up in 2006 to find solutions to this problem, and work with fisheries and governments to save the albatross. Over the last 12 months the team has made good progress towards saving vulnerable seabirds in some of the world’s most deadly fisheries, the details of which are in our new report.

8/10 of our high priority fisheries now have regulations in place to protect seabirds, following an announcement from Argentina that seabird regulations are to be introduced by May 2018 that will require trawlers to use bird-scaring lines.

The benefit for seabirds in Argentina will be huge, as the main trawl fleet is responsible for the death of 13,500 black-browed albatross per year, an impact we expect to reduce by over 85% based on our experimental results.

Across the Atlantic in Namibia, since seabird regulations came into force there, 100% of trawl and demersal longline vessels have now been provisioned with bird-scaring lines, constructed through our collaboration with a local women’s group, Meme Itumbapo.

By next year we hope to show that Namibia has achieved significant bycatch reductions similar to South Africa where we documented a 99% reduction in albatross deaths in the trawl fishery following the introduction of bird-scaring lines. This will be a major win for albatross, as our estimates for the two Namibian fleets suggest in excess of 25,000 seabirds were previously killed annually.

Our work in small scale fisheries has also leapt forward over the last 12 months; in Chile we have shown that modifications to purse-seine net design has the potential to reduce shearwater bycatch massively, and in Peru trials of net lights have virtually eliminated bycatch of not just seabirds, but also turtles and marine mammals.

This is all hugely exciting as no mitigation measures previously existed for these types of fisheries.

All of these successes have only been possible due to the collaborative efforts between our in country partners, the RSPB and BirdLife International, plus generous funding from RSPB membership, external sponsors and many kind individual donations.

We are extremely thankful for the continued support we receive, without which we wouldn’t be able to keep up the fight to save the albatross.

Krav til regeringen: Flyt en halv milliard ekstra om året til miljøet

(Toke F. Nyborg 20 juni 2017)
Sammen med Danmarks Naturfredningsforening, WWF og 10 andre grønne og naturbevarende organisationer er DOF medafsender på åbent brev til Folketingets Miljø- og Fødevareudvalg. I brevet opfordrer vi regeringen til at flytte en halv milliard ekstra om året fra den direkte landbrugsstøtte til natur- og miljøtiltag

Inden 1. august kan regeringen beslutte at overføre flere penge fra EU’s direkte landbrugsstøtte til natur-, miljø- og klimaforbedrende tiltag i landbruget. Det kan modvirke den udhuling af støtten til miljø og natur, som sker frem mod 2020.

I 2014 besluttede den daværende regering at overføre 5-7 % af den direkte støtte til Landdistriktsprogrammet. Det var første skridt på vejen. Det var nødvendigt for at finansiere de initiativer i Landbrugspakken, som delvist skal kompensere for effekterne af øget udspredning af næringsstoffer.

Regeringen har endnu ikke taget stilling til, om der skal overføres yderligere midler til landdistriktsprogrammet. Beslutningen skal tages inden for den nærmeste fremtid.

Læs de grønne organisationers åbne brev til Folketingets Miljø- og Fødevareudvalg: EU’s landbrugsstøtte: Det er nu Danmark bør vælge fuld fleksibilitet

Hardangervidda IBA: En smak av Arktis i Sør-Norge

Mye av Hardangervidda IBA er vernet. I 1981 ble Nordens største nasjonalpark etablert, noe som skulle hjelpe til å bevare et unikt og storslagent fjellområde sør i landet. Dessverre betyr det ikke at de siste tiårene har vært uten problemer for fuglene som lever der.

Hardangervidda er et gedigent høgfjellsplatå, faktisk det mest omfangsrike i Europa. Fjellområdet deles av fylkene Hordaland, Buskerud og Telemark. Landskapet sentralt og øst på vidda domineres av flatt eller bølgende terreng med et mylder av små og store vann. Områdene i vest, samt områdene nord for selve nasjonalparken, er mer kuperte. I nasjonalparkens randområder i vest stuper fjellene ned i de dype vestlandsfjordene.

Fjellfugler i tilbakegang

Hardangervidda ble tidlig valgt ut som et «Important Bird and Biodiversity Area» (IBA) av NOF. Artssammensetningen er karakteristisk for det arktiske biomet, og Hardangervidda er også en av landets viktigste hekkeområder for den globalt truete dobbeltbekkasinen. Bestanden i IBAet er anslått til 100–200 par, men kan godt være betydelig større. Heilo er en karakterart i fjellområdet, mens jaktfalk, sjøorre og temmincksnipe finnes i mindre antall på en del lokaliteter. Det kan også nevnes at Hardangervidda er det sørligste hekkeområdet for tundrasædgås (underarten rossicus av sædgås Anser fabalis) i Europa.

Dessverre viser nyere undersøkelser at flere av Hardangersviddas karakterarter har vært i tilbakegang de siste 20 årene, noe som sammenfaller med negative bestandstrender for flere av våre fjelltilknyttede fuglearter over store deler av landet. Ved å sammenligne hekkefaunaen i et område på 1250 moh. i Eidfjord kommune i 2010 og 2011 med registeringer gjort 30 år tidligere, fant Byrkjedal og Kålås (2012) indikasjoner på en urovekkende tilbakegang hos en del vanlige arter. Nedgangen var på om lag 40 % for heipiplerke, 65 % for steinskvett og hele 85 % for lappspurv. Mulige habitatendringer på hekkeplassen og negative faktorer på overvintringsplassen er ansett som mulige årsaker.

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Nytt åtgärdsprogram för att rädda en av landets mest hotade fågelarter


(Erik Hansson 14 juni 2017)

Den vitryggiga hackspetten är en av landets mest hotade fågelarter med enbart ungefär 20 vilda individer. Nu gör Naturvårdsverket och Skogsstyrelsen en gemensam mångmiljonsatsning på ett nytt åtgärdsprogram som sträcker sig fram till år 2021.

Den vitryggiga hackspetten är beroende av livsmiljöer som det numera finns väldigt få av i Sverige – lövrika skogar med stor mängd död lövved. I åtgärdsprogrammet ingår det att återskapa sådana miljöer bland annat genom att hugga ner granar, göra naturvårdsbränningar, skapa död lövved och återställa vattenmiljöer.

– Det är framför allt storleken på områdena som är kritiskt för den vitryggiga hackspetten, berättade Kristoffer Stighäll, projektledare för Projekt vitryggig hackspett i en intervju med Natursidan i höstas. Nya studier visar att det nog inte ens räcker med en kvadratkilometer gammal lövskog utan att det snarare behövs två kvadratkilometer. Studier från Finland visar också att skogar som innehåller minst 75 procent gran är olämpliga för arten. Granen gör att det blir skuggigt, fuktigt och därmed inte så mycket vedinsekter i lövträden som vitryggig hackspett behöver.

De nya insatserna kommer att fokuseras till fem områden: Forsmark, Dalälven, Fagersta, Klarälven och Sydvästra Dalsland–Östra Värmland. I dessa områden ska förutom åtgärder i naturen även utplacering av uppfödda vitryggiga hackspettar ske.

– Förr fanns den i successioner efter skogsbränder eller i tidvis översvämmade skogar, miljöer som är nästan helt borta i Sverige. Idag finns de bästa miljöerna ofta i igenväxande före detta betes- och slåttermarker och i kantzonen mellan skogs- och jordbrukslandskap. Det finns ett stort restaureringsbehov av den typen av skogar, som ofta hyser många andra rödlistade arter, skriver Naturvårdsverket i sin rapport.

Förutom arbete med de fem fokusområdena ska rådgivning och dialog med skogsbruket ske inom ytterligare åtta områden. Dessa platser har också stora möjligheter att hysa häckande vitryggig hackspett på sikt.

– En förutsättning för åtgärdsprogrammet är också åtgärder av skogsbrukets aktörer, till exempel frivilliga avsättningar, naturvårdande skötsel och hänsyn vid skogsbruksåtgärder, avslutas rapportens sammanfattning.

Sammanlagt har åtgärdsprogrammet en budget på över 33 miljoner kronor fram till år 2021.

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War-torn Kabul becomes a protected site for migratory birds

(Anne Chaon 13 June 2017)

A rare Afghan marsh that was once a royal hunting ground is set to come under the official protection of the UN environment agency, with the aim of saving hundreds of migratory bird species.

On the long, arid journey to the Caucasus and Siberia, across the Hindu Kush massif, the Kol-e-Hashmat Khan wetlands outside Kabul provide sanctuary for the thousands of storks, egrets, pelicans and flamingos that head north every spring from southern India.

But after 40 years of conflict and neglect, their habitat is being threatened by the growth in new homes, irrigation systems, rubbish and global warming which is gradually changing the local environment.

Now the UN has designated the wetlands a conservation site, the Afghan government said on Sunday, as it also looks to help preserve the water supply of the capital.

“There are probably more than 300 or 400 species that pass through, though without an accurate count it is hard to be sure,” says Andrew Scanlon, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Afghanistan.

They are migratory birds and “tourists” who stay for a very short period of time to find food, he adds.

At daybreak, the marsh comes alive with the morning chatter of the birds hungry for breakfast.

Binoculars in hand, Scanlon stands atop a tower that dominates the landscape.

In the distance is the silhouette of Bala Hissar, an ancient fortress that defended the city for centuries. Opposite, mud houses and sturdier dwellings made from bricks seem to spring up at random, hurrily erected during wars for tides of refugees and displaced people.

It was once a favoured place for royals to go hunting, though Scanlon stresses any activity would have been carried out “in a sustainable way”.

But with the invasion of the Soviet army in 1979 and the succession of conflicts afterwards, including the civil war in the early 1990s, Afghans were preoccupied by their own survival and the environment suffered.

War saw the marshes more or less abandoned until 2005, Scanlon explains.

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Det ser fortsatt allt ljusare ut för Sveriges pilgrimsfalkar


(Erk Hansson, 8 juni 2017)

Det fortsätter gå bra för Sveriges pilgrimsfalkar. 2015 fanns det 399-450 par i landet. 2016 hittades 451-500 par. Även i år finns positiva tendenser. I Falkenbergs kommun häckar inte mindre än fem par och i Rättviks kommun ser det ut att bli häckning för första gången på 50 år. 

– En bolåda sattes upp 2009 på silon i Falkenberg. Efter det har pilgrimsfalken häckat varje år. I år häckar fem par pilgrimsfalkar i Falkenbergs kommun, vilket är mycket glädjande, berättar Thomas Andersson, ordförande i Falkenbergs ornitologiska förening.

För pilgrimsfalksparet i Rättvik är läget lite mer osäkert i dagsläget. De har hittat en lämplig boplats och förhoppningsvis kommer de lyckas med häckningen. I sådana fall är det första gången på 50 år som pilgrimsfalkarna häckar i Rättviks kommun.

I Västerås verkar falkarna fortsätta trivas och ett häckningsförsök görs återigen i staden. Det var inte länge sedan de första pilgrimsfalkarna på 60 år valde att etablera sig i Mälarstaden tack vare frivilliga eldsjälar och Projekt pilgrimsfalk.

Det finns med andra ord positiva tendenser för pilgrimsfalkarna även i år, men det är för tidigt att ge någon prognos hur det går i år enligt Peter Lindberg på Projekt pilgrimsfalk.

– Vi håller på med de första ringmärkningarna just nu men har fått in rapporter om flera nya par, så populationsökningen fortsätter som förväntat.

Att 2016 blev ännu ett bra år står dock klart. I södra Sverige hittades 17 fler revir än 2015 och sju fler häckande par. Det kunde konstateras häckning i Sörmland för första gången sedan 1970-talet och dessutom med två lyckade häckningar. Även Blekinge fick 2016 sin första häckning på länge. Närmare bestämt minst 60 år. Flera nya par har också upptäckts i Halland och Västergötland. Den totala populationen pilgrimsfalkar i Sverige 2016 beräknades till mellan 451 och 500 par.

Ännu ett framgångsrikt år för ett framgångsrikt projekt
Projekt pilgrimsfalk fortsätter vara ett synnerligen positivt exempel på ett fungerande bevarandeprojekt. Det startades i mitten på 1970-talet när pilgrimsfalkarna i Sverige drabbats hårt av miljögifter som PCB, DDT och kvicksilver.

Falkstammen i sydvästra Sverige höll på att försvinna helt och sammanlagt i Sverige verkade det bara finnas 15 par falkar. Projekt pilgrimsfalk började arbeta med att skydda boplatser, kartlägga miljögifternas effekter och föda upp falkungar.

Vid millenieskiftet hade målsättningen med 30 häckande vilda par uppnåtts i Västsverige och sedan dess har det över lag fortsatt gå väldigt bra för pilgrimsfalkarna i landet. 2015 fanns mellan 399 och 450 par och ytterligare ett hundratal pilgrimsfalkar som hävdade revir.

Inte minst har falkarna spritt sig till allt fler storstäder och då ofta med hjälp av uppsatta häckningslådor. I dagsläget häckar eller revirhävdar pilgrimsfalkar i södra Sverige i bland annat Limhamn, Barsebäcksverket, Helsingborg, Halmstad, Falkenberg, Göteborg och Västerås.

– Urbana häckningar har vi i år haft i Helsingborg, där hanen är 17 år gammal vilket är något av ett rekord för en vild hane. Han fungerar dock dåligt och äggen var obefruktade. Andra urbana häckningar i uppsatta lådor har vi i Halmstad och Falkenberg samt i Västerås. Den välkända häckningsplatsen på gasklockan i Göteborg försvann under senvintern i samband med rivning och paret gjorde häckningsförsök på annan byggnad i hamnen. Däremot nyttjades inte de nyuppsatta bolådorna på Energiverkens byggnader, berättar Peter Lindberg.

Förhoppningar om trädhäckande falkar
Nu råder det också viss konkurrens om bra häckningsplatser i naturen och pilgrimsfalkarna kan ibland tvingas bort från lämpliga platser av berguvar. Allt fler pilgrimsfalkar häckar i gamla stenbrott och byggnader. Förhoppningen är att pilgrimsfalkarna ska börja häcka i träd, som de gjorde under 1940- och 1950-talen.

– Börjar falkarna utnyttja gamla havsörns- eller fiskgjusebon finns en potential för expansion framförallt i Småland och Uppland, skriver Peter Lindberg i en rapport om Projekt pilgrimsfalk 2016.

Egentligen har Naturskyddsföreningens avelsprojekt avslutats, men ”vi hade inte hjärta att avliva de gamla avelsfalkarna” berättar Peter Lindberg. Så några par sitter kvar på Nordens Ark i Bohuslän och producerar fortfarande en del ungar. Årets ungar räcker till två utsättningar (kallas för hacking) och kommer att sättas ut i Köping och Örebro län.

Även om pilgrimsfalkarna haft stora framgångar i många städer i södra Sverige har det inte fungerat lika bra i Stockholm. Första året skickades alla utom en unge till Västerås istället och andra året kraschade en av de unga falkarna mot en husvägg, hetsad av måsfåglar i området. Ännu en höll på att förolyckas, men räddades. En tredje klarade sig och verkar ha lämnat Stockholm för egna vingar. Sedan dess (2015) har inga nya försök gjorts och det planeras inte heller ske. Stockholm får istället hoppas på att Projekt pilgrimsfalks framgångar ska spilla över naturligt på huvudstaden.

– Vi har inga planer på utsättning i Stockholmsområdet men chans finns att vi får en naturlig återetablering där eftersom den vilda stammen växer, avslutar Peter Lindberg.

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Safe at last: Spoonie’s winter wonderland becomes Ramsar site

spoon-billed sandpiper.jpg(Alex Dale 5 June 2017)

Following tireless work from BirdLife Partner BANCA, Myanmar’s Government has designated part of the Gulf of Mottama a Ramsar Site – affording this vast wetland, an important wintering site for globally threatened waders, protection against the threat of over-fishing.

Picture it in your mind’s eye: a wild, untamed stretch of coast, where rapid, powerful waves lash at the endless mud flats, constantly resculpting and refreshing the shoreline.

Imagine, too, tidal flats that teem with life, as fish and invertebrates alike feast on the sediments and nutrients that flow into the coastal waters via three major rivers. What you’re picturing is the Gulf of Mottama – a giant, funnel-shaped estuary in Myanmar, and one of the most important wintering sites for migratory waterbirds in Asia.

So rich are the pickings at the Gulf of Mottama that one out of every two Spoonies recommend it – Spoonie, of course, being the colloquial name for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea, a Critically Endangered wader that has been hit hard by habitat loss across its wintering grounds. Here in the Gulf of Mottama, up to 180-220 Spoonies are estimated to arrive every winter – around half the global population of this scarce bird, cementing the area’s status as an area of outstanding conservational value.

And yet, until very recently, the Gulf of Mottama’s future was far from secure. Despite its importance for threatened migratory waders such as Spoonie, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris and Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer, and its recognition by BirdLife as an IBA Danger Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), the Gulf received no formal protection status, and this has led to its resources being drained at an alarming rate.

The biggest threat to this valuable ecosystem is over-fishing. The numbers of fish in its waters have plummeted over the last decade, largely as a result of illegal fishers using nets that indiscriminately trap fish of all sizes and varieties – including juveniles. Bird hunting, too, has been a problem in recent years, but it is difficult to effectively control these threats in areas that do not benefit from government protection.

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The guardians of Africa’s largest lake

shoebill.jpg(Louise Jasper 17 May 2017)

Locals are rallying together to protect Lake Victoria’s valuable wetlands and its inhabitants. The world’s largest tropical lake spans three countries and nourishes both the rich wildlife and the impoverished communities that live around it. But its resources have also attracted less desirable attention – such as traffickers targeting iconic birds such as the Shoebill.

As the sun rises over the Mabamba Bay Wetland on the northwestern shores of Lake Victoria, East Africa, a canoe slowly navigates a winding channel lined with papyrus and reeds. A light mist still clings to the water, and three tourists jump excitedly at every rustle, ripple and flutter of wings as they peer into the dense vegetation. Their guide Julius Musenda, a fisherman from the local village of Kasanje who knows the swamp like the back of his hand, keeps his sharp eyes peeled for the feathered prize they have all come to find.

Mabamba Bay is widely recognised as the best place to see the mysterious Shoebill Balaeniceps rex in Uganda, but a sighting is never guaranteed. Tension is mounting, they must soon return to land to catch their flight and time is growing short. There! He’s spotted one at last: an unmistakeable blue-grey bird with a massive bill and small white eyes, standing still as stone as it waits for its next meal to swim within range. As his clients gasp, focus their binoculars and snap away at their cameras, Julius smiles with relief. His clients will leave Uganda today happy and satisfied; a job well done.

Julius is a member of the Mabamba Bird Guides and Conservation Association, which is in turn part of the Mabamba Wetland Eco-Tourism Association (MWETA), along with two other Local Conservation Groups (LCGs). These community groups are run by volunteers who aim to conserve and sustainably manage the wetlands’ natural resources, and are part of a network of over 2,000 similar groups working at BirdLife Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) around the world.

The Shoebill and a range of other interesting wildlife such as the Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea, Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri and Sitatunga Antelope Tragelaphus spekii attract ever-increasing numbers of visitors to the swamp, providing vital income for the local people. So in 2013 and 2014 when wildlife traffickers began to target the Shoebill in Mabamba Bay for sale to zoos and private collectors, the community took swift and direct action to stamp out the trade.

The local people were able to act so quickly and confidently because they were well organised and aware of their rights and responsibilities as stewards of the wetland, which is an IBA protected under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources.. They also fostered close relationships with local law enforcement agencies and government bodies, and were able to rely on their support when the need arose.

Vitally, they had the motivation to protect their local patch from those who wished to exploit it for short-term gain. MWETA focused their conservation efforts through the creation of a sophisticated Community Action Plan, with assistance from Nature Uganda (BirdLife Partner in Uganda), which also helped them better understand the importance and value of their natural resources.

Mabamba Bay, like some other wetlands in the area, is not included in Uganda’s official protected area system. Its management therefore lies largely in the hands of local people and civil society organisations such as MWETA, who try to conserve it in the face of serious threats including poaching, pollution, invasive species and agricultural encroachment – problems also affecting the wider Lake Victoria Basin.

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