I thought that it was time for one of my occasional forays into our international work. This report comes from my colleague, Ian Fisher...
Earlier this month, 14 spoon-billed sandpipers hatched in captivity at Slimbridge Wetland Centre as part of an ambitious and exciting partnership between the RSPB, WWT, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona Consulting and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force. The tiny spoonie breeds in the sub-Arctic tundra in the far east of Russia, and the remaining wild population is frighteningly small – fewer than 100 pairs. So eggs travelled by car, helicopter and plane from Anadyr, via Moscow and London, to Slimbridge, where a custom-built facility houses a growing reserve of birds as insurance against extinction in the wild. Once old enough to breed at two years, the plan is that the offspring of these global voyagers will return to Russia to bolster the wild population.
Training by torchlight
Building up a stock of captive birds is only one part of the story. Far from the breeding grounds in Chukotka, spoonies spend the majority of the rest of the year feeding on the extensive mudflats in coastal Myanmar and Bangladesh. Here bird trapping is the prime suspect for causing steep declines in the population. Local and international conservationists have had some success in finding and funding alternative livelihoods, and RSPB staff have been involved in several expeditions to survey the intertidal areas of the Gulf of Mottama in Myanmar. The local BirdLife Partner BANCA has been instrumental in progress so far, but there is still much to do to re-educate and provide sustainable activities for the people who live on the shoreline.
But what of the 8,000 km journey from Russia to south-east Asia? The critically important stop-over sites along the coastlines of China and both Koreas suffer from wide-ranging conservation problems, including extensive development, drainage, damming, and pollution. Overall, East Asian intertidal habitats (including beaches, marshes, mudflats, mangroves and sea-grass beds) are disappearing at a rate unprecedented for the coastal zone elsewhere in the world. Some countries have lost more than half of their coastal wetland area to land reclamation since 1980. These rates of habitat destruction are comparable to those of tropical rainforests and mangroves.
Teng Mung Community Project
So our third line of attack is through influence of international policy for protection of the East Asian/Australasian flyway - at the recent Ramsar Conference of Contracting Parties in Bucharest, for example, we were working to ensure that important wetlands are given statutory protection across flyways, so that migrating birds, including the spoon-billed sandpiper, don't get half-way along their journey and find there is nowhere to take a break and refuel. RSPB hosted a 'side-event' entitled "The disappearing tidal mudflats of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway" to highlight the issues.
Our work on the spoonie is a great example of organisations, experts and individuals from around the world working together to save an animal from extinction. A bird like the spoon-billed sandpiper, with its odd little beak, doesn’t deserve to be wiped out through human activities. All elements of this project – from our work with subsistence hunters in Myanmar and Bangladesh, to efforts to protect the flyway, to the captive breeding programme here in the UK – are necessary parts of the jigsaw. Without dealing with all pieces at the same time, this ambitious project would struggle to succeed. "
And collaboration extends further - to major funders such as SOS - Save Our Species, and to thousands of generous individuals who care about the fate of this quirky little bird and want it to survive to inspire future generations."
These really are fabulous birds and I plan to provide you with further updates soon. If you want to find out more, you can visit the Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper website and read personal accounts from the field at the RSPB's Saving Species blog.
Seems like fun ! And very good work of course !
Sorry Martin I find it sad and obscene the effort RSPB puts in on a foreign species that should never become a naturalised U K bird and when I compare the effort that I see the RSPB putting in to saving the Hen Harrier as a English bird then perhaps I have to conclude that itis all about publicity to gain new members.
U K has plenty of problems to crack and I think the charity has plenty to do at home where at least you have more control,the chance of stopping starving people making a meal for their children by eating a rare bird is zero.
Many, many congratulations to all concerned, a great project. I am sure this is just one example of many, of how different conservation organisations around the world can work together for the benefit and saving of wildlife. Like many of these "flagship" projects they have the added effect of helping other species as well, such as, in this case, trying to conserve the remaining Eastern Pacific flyway wetlands and reducing hunting of waders in Myanmar and Bangladesh
Sorry to totally disagree with Sooty for many reasons. Firstly it is the expertise of RSPB's and other recognised conservation organisations, that is so vital in saving wildlife abroad. Many countries do not have that wealth of expertise and it therefore makes sense to make use of it internationally, not just in the UK. Secondly one cannot draw a metaphorical "fence" around our island and say we are only concerned with what is inside that fence. Our birds don't recognise such artifical ideas as they migrate to Africa, South America (Max shearwaters), the Arctic and elsewhere. Thirdly, unless people are pursuaded to live sustainably as far as wildlife and the wider environment is concerned, within a "blink of an eye" not only will all the wildlife be gone but, starvation as Sooty calls it, will really set in. Not learning to live sustainably with nature is the "road to ruin" for all species including ourselves.
So as Peter Crispin says above,"very good work of course", and more of it please.
A bit of an update on the number of chicks hatched at WWT Slimbridge from the 2012 intake - 17 - which is great news for the conservation breeding programme, one part of the international efforts to stop spoon-billed sandpipers heading towards global extinction.
Sooty - I shall check the figures, but I think that c11% of conservation expenditure is focused on international work. Yes I primary focus is on saving UK wildlife, and that will always be the case, but as part of the BirdLife International family, we think we can and do make a difference to supporting others in saving the world's most endangered species and threatened habitats. This led us to work with fishermen to prevent 300,000 albatrosses from being caught through longline fishing, to saving rainforests in places like Indonesia and Sierra Leone and trying to eradicate rats from Henderson Island. I think that the spoonbill sandpiper project is a good example of how we can make a tangible difference and stop a species from becoming extinct.
Martin,all very honourable examples of good work,then how is it that the Hen Harrier is for all practical purposes extinct in England.It must have the wrong bill shape.Of course I recognise that birds are global and those that only spend part of their life here we need to help find causes if they are decreasing in numbers whether the cause is here or abroad but that is not the case with SBS and it is probably a lost cause in the wild whether some are released or not.
These other countries are not necessarily backward anyway some have just as good a wildlife schemes as the U K has.