New protection for migratory birds and their 'flyways'

| 14th November 2014
The Golden Oriole is one of the birds set to benefit from the protection of the Aftrica-Eurasia Flyway. Photo: m-idre31 via Flickr.
The Golden Oriole is one of the birds set to benefit from the protection of the Aftrica-Eurasia Flyway. Photo: m-idre31 via Flickr.
Two new international agreements will help to save migratory birds from hunting, trapping and poisoning, and to protect their long-distance flyways. A key objective is to phase out lead shot within three years, and eliminate the toxic drug diclofenac.
A key element enshrined in the Guidelines is to phase out the use of lead gunshot in all environments over the next three years.

Two historic global agreements that will help save migratory bird species across the world were reached last weekend.

The Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) agreed a set of guidelines to tackle causes of poisoning and ratified a groundbreaking Action Plan to save more than 400 bird species.

The Resolution Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds supports the guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning, encourages parties to reduce and minimise poisoning of migratory birds, including recommending a ban on veterinary diclofenac, the phasing out of all lead ammunition, and action on rodenticides, insecticides and poison baits. 

These five groups of poisons were identified as the most significant poisoning risks to migratory birds and the agreement marks a key milestone in ending this threat.

"The adoption, by CMS Parties, of the global Guidelines to Prevent the Risk of Poisoning of Migratory Birds is a significant step forward. A key element enshrined in the Guidelines is to phase out the use of lead gunshot in all environments over the next three years", says the CMS secretariat.

Protecting the 'African-Eurasian flyway'

The Landbird Action Plan, also agreed at the meeting, sets out ways to improve the conservation status of more than 400 different species of bird that use the 'African-Eurasian flyway' (AEF).

In fact the AEF is is made up of three different sub-flyways:

  • the East Atlantic Flyway, used by about 90 million birds annually, passing from their breeding areas in the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and northern Europe to wintering areas in western Europe and on to southern Africa;
  • the Black Sea-Mediterranean Flyway;
  • and the West Asian-East African Flyway, a group of well-established routes by which many species of birds migrate annually between mid-Palearctic breeding grounds in Asia and non-breeding sites in eastern and southern Africa.

The Plan also identifies the need for landscape-scale protection and recognises how everybody doing their bit can make a real difference.

More than a quarter of the 52 red-listed species of Birds of Conservation Concern are ones which nest in Europe and spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, and depend on the AEF for their annual migrations.

The species include cuckoo, turtle dove, wryneck, nightjar, tree pipit, yellow wagtail, grasshopper warbler, aquatic warbler, Savi's warbler, marsh warbler, wood warbler, red-backed shrike, golden oriole, spotted flycatcher.

Ending the killing of migratory birds at their most vulnerable

CMS and its African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), agreed 40 years ago, have already assisted Egypt and Libya to develop an action plan to put an end to the practice by local hunters of trapping migrant songbirds.

While this has been a longstanding tradition, it has increased in intensity to the extent that there is now a 700-km line of nylon nets set up along the Mediterranean coastline of North Africa which is probably contributing to the population decline of some species.

A key measure proposed by the resolution is the creation of an intergovernmental 'task force' to address illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds to tackle the problem.

This task force will support governments and other stakeholders to stop the illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds, including through exchange of best practice, promoting monitoring of trends in these illegal activities and encouraging the development of specific action plans at regional and international level.

BirdLife International is currently leading a quantitative assessment of the scale of illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean. Preliminary results from under half of the 27 countries assessed already suggest that tens of millions of individual birds may be illegally killed each year.

Huge numbers of birds are killed during their spring migration in Malta every year, including raptors, waterbirds, landbirds and many other species that are protected by international law.

RSPB: 'It's a good day for conservation'

Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation, said: "From what I hear these were not easy negotiations, which makes the news all the more welcome that CMS has arrived at such a good outcome. I would like to congratulate the UK government for its role in helping to find a way forward.

"I'm delighted the Action Plan for land birds has now been adopted and work that considers the conservation needs of the birds' whole lifecycle, across an international flyway - from breeding grounds in the UK to wintering areas in West Africa - will be undertaken.

"Birds such as the turtle dove, cuckoo, nightjar, vultures and many more will all benefit from these two positive and historic agreements.  It's a good day for conservation."

Harper also welcomed the Resolution Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds: "Although the agreement is not legally binding it clearly signals governments' commitment to ending poisoning from lead ammunition, diclofenac and other key sources."

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