Saving Species

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Living in the Gola forests - Pygmy hippos and people

    Guest blog by Dr. Annika Hillers, Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

    Between 2010 and 2014 the research teams in the Gola Forests in Sierra Leone and Liberia conducted various pygmy hippopotamus surveys. Results showed that pygmy hippos are associated with larger rivers close to, but rarely within large intact forest areas, and mainly outside of protected areas. Therefore, robust networks of protected forests and community-based conservation activities are needed for the survival of pygmy hippos.

    This recent research was published in the journal Oryx and is titled A mix of community-based conservation and protected forests is needed for the survival of the Endangered pygmy hippopotamus Choeropsis liberiensis.

    The elusive pygmy hippo

    Pygmy hippos are endangered and occur in only four countries in West Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea). They are found in forested areas, which now are very much fragmented and continue to be under immense human pressure linked to agriculture, logging and mining. There is no reliable estimate for the remaining pygmy hippo population in the wild, but it is believed to range from 2,000 to 3,000 individuals.

    Pygmy hippos are very elusive and solitary animals. Knowledge about their distribution and ecology is scarce, and they are threatened through habitat destruction and hunting for bushmeat.

    The Greater Gola Landscape in Sierra Leone and Liberia is one of the last remaining natural habitats for pygmy hippos and therefore very important for their survival.

    Photo of pygmy hippo recorded on camera trap in the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone

    Gola pygmy hippo research and community outreach

    For the past six years, various research and outreach activities in the Gola Forests focused on pygmy hippos.

    Research included community questionnaires, surveys along rivers and streams, camera trapping and transect walks. In a separate project we also tried to capture and radio collar pygmy hippos.

    Awareness raising events were for example meetings and road shows with local communities and activities with school children. We also produced education materials, such as posters, bumper stickers, species fact sheets and T-Shirts.

    Research and outreach activities were funded through Basel Zoo, Switzerland, and the European Commission.

    More pygmy hippos live outside of protected areas

    During field surveys, pygmy hippo signs such as dung, footprints, feeding sites and direct sightings (e.g. camera trap pictures) were recorded at 509 locations, most of which (80.4%) were located outside of protected areas. Recorded signs were also used to model the potential pygmy hippo distribution in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

    Pygmy hippo locations were mainly associated with larger rivers, and were close to, but rarely within large, intact forest areas.

    Pygmy hippos need people’s help to survive

    In the greater Gola landscape, pygmy hippos mainly occur along larger rivers in the community forest area. They therefore need strong support from communities in order to avoid land-use and human-wildlife conflicts, further habitat destruction and poaching. Community-based conservation activities are the way forward to guarantee the survival of pygmy hippos in this region.

    Actively involving the local community on conservation

    The recommendation from our research findings was already put into practice. The Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP) piloted a “Community Youth Conservation Volunteer programme”, which targets unemployed youth in forest edge communities and actively involves them in the conservation of threatened species. Two groups of volunteers were trained at the Gola Rainforest Conservation Centre in January and March 2016. One group focuses on pygmy hippos (funded again by Basel Zoo), the other group focuses on the white-necked Picathartes, another species that depends strongly on habitats in community forests areas.

    The first group of pygmy hippo Conservation Volunteers trained at the Gola Rainforest Conservation Centre in March 2016

    Twelve Conservation Volunteers (including three women) were selected from six communities and form three teams. Every month, they conduct pygmy hippo surveys around their communities and engage school children at their local schools in various education activities around pygmy hippos. The volunteers will also be engaged in other community outreach activities of the Gola Rainforest National Park. At the end of the first year of the programme, the volunteer teams will present their activities and findings. The best Conservation Volunteers will be selected and will act as mentors for the next group of volunteers, which will come from different communities.

    We hope this programme will help to raise more awareness and support for pygmy hippos among local communities. We also administer questionnaires at various stages of the project in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the programme.

    More information about the Gola forests

    The RSPB is proud that we have worked in partnership with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and the Government of Sierra Leone for 25 years to protect and restore this amazing forest. Gola harbours 60 globally threatened species such as the enigmatic pygmy hippo and beautiful Diana monkey, and directly benefits approximately 24,000 people living in 122 forest edge communities: people who are the poorest of the poor. Find out more about our Gola appeal here.

    You can Follow us on twitter @Golarainforest and visit the RSPB web page The Gola Rainforest: Sierra Leone's first Rainforest National Park

    More information about the Gola Forests and the Gola Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation project (as a way of tackling climate change, to provide long term financing for the park and directly benefit forest edge communities) visit www.golarainforest.org

  • State of common birds in Europe

    Guest blog by Dr Richard Gregory, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science and Project Manager of the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS)

    A new report reveals the population change of 169 common birds in Europe over the last 34 years (1980 to 2014) and for the last decade (2005 to 2014).

    The report published by the PECBMS, brings together data from 28 countries and from a range of organisations including the RSPB. The report reveals the steep decline of long-distance migrants and many farmland birds, but the increase of some woodland species in Europe.

    Long-distance migrant birds facing steep declines

    Long-distance migrant birds including Turtle dove (down 79%), Willow warbler (down 35%), Wood warbler (down 33%) and Cuckoo (down 22%) are all facing steep declines - with the Turtle dove population trend plummeting to a new low (1980 to 2014). 

    Photo of Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur, perched in tree by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Graph showing the population change (1980 to 2014) of European Turtle dove showing a -79% long-term trend from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (ebcc.info)


    Graph showing the grouped species trends of all common birds in Europe (167 species), showing a -16% decline (1980-2014), and long-distance migrant birds (55 species) showing a -28% decline from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (ebcc.info)

    Farmland birds, such as Skylark and Starling are also facing steep declines, numbers falling by 55% over recent decades in both cases (1980 to 2014).

    Our breeding wading birds too are not faring well across Europe, Curlew numbers down 43%, Lapwing down 58%, and Redshank worryingly down by 61% (1980 to 2014). The trends of these birds give particular cause for conservation concern.

    Woodland birds showing moderate increase

    Woodland birds show greater population stability as a group across Europe – Greater spotted woodpecker numbers are up 76% and Black woodpecker numbers up 95%!  And yet not all forest birds are doing well, the Nightingale, another migrant bird is a case in point, down by 65% across Europe.

    Europe species declines mirrored in UK

    The declines revealed in this report mirror the species declines in the UK - and these data feed into the new European figures.  For example, the recent Breeding Bird Survey revealed that the Turtle dove declined by- 93% in the UK from 1995 to 2014. For more information take a look at the State for the UKs birds 2015 and the 2015 Breeding Bird Survey

    Some European species increasing strongly

    Despite the declines the numbers of white stork, crane, hoopoe and Sardinian warbler are all increasing strongly in Europe and we might expect see them here more often.  In contrast, numbers of Ortolan bunting, Rustic bunting and Serin, are all way down and they may become much scarcer as vagrants.

    Photo showing Common crane on pastureland, during autumn migration period in Germany by Nick Upton (rspb-images.com)

    Data for 169 common European birds is open access

    For the first time the trend data used in the report is available for free download from the PECBMS website. To download the data visit the PECBMS website - European species indices and European & EU species indicators.

    The report is used to inform conservation efforts

    The report is used to help direct conservation effort and priorities at national EU and European levels, and the data has been used in a number of peer-reviewed papers, including important recent research published in the journal Conservation Letters last week, Tracking Progress Towards EU Biodiversity Strategy Targets: EU Policy Effects in Preserving its Common Farmland Birds.

    For more information about PECBMS visit www.ebcc.info

    Special thanks

    Many thanks go to the dedicated volunteers who have contributed to the dataset used in this report and the many national partners, organisations and Individuals who make the PECBMS possible.  The PECBMS is funded by the European Commission and RSPB.

  • Can new technology save albatross from extinction?

    Stephanie Winnard, Project Officer for the Albatross Task Force writes:

    Albatrosses are incredible apex predators, but are vulnerable to bycatch in fisheries. Image by Augusto Silva-Costa, Projecto Albatroz

    At least 160,000 seabirds are dying in longline fisheries every year. 15 of 22 albatross species are facing extinction,  primarily due to fishing. Thanks to technological advances, a new option has become available that facilitates the fight to save the albatross.

    Incidental bycatch is major driver of albatross population declines. Image by John Paterson

    Our project aims to test Hookpods in a Brazilian fishery. The Hookpod locks the barb of a baited hook within a capsule until a depth of ten metres when it opens for fishing. This keeps the birds safe as the baited hooks are being deployed into the water. The RSPB and BirdLife International are working with our project partner in Brazil, Projeto Albatroz, to provide vessels in the pelagic longline fleet with Hookpods. By doing so, our objective is to create awareness and practical experience of this one stop mitigation measure. 

    The initial cost of Hookpods to fishermen will be approximately £10 each but the investment by fishermen will be covered by efficiencies and cost savings. These are: by eliminating the use of light sticks, line weighting, tori (bird scaring) lines, night fishing and the loss of baits to seabirds.

    The Hookpod in use in Australia. Image by Oliver Yates

    To help fund the costs of this project, we have set up a crowd sourcing project through experiment.com through which we hope to raise $5,000 toward the purchase of this exciting new mitigation measure and reusable LED lights to replace the disposable plastic light sticks that the fleet uses to attract fish to the hooks. The use of these lights, in combination with the Hookpod could save thousands of albatrosses and petrels each year, and reduce the discard of as many as six million light sticks per year into the marine ecosystem.

    Renowned wildlife photographer David Tipling has donated a stunning wandering albatross limited edition print for one lucky donor to win. To be in with a chance you just need to donate $25 or more to the project.

    Wandering albatross on South Georgia.  Image by David Tipling

    Follow the link to watch a video about the project and to donate.