Some of the best nature conservation success stories from around the RSPB this year.
Celebrating 10 years of saving albatrosses
2016 marked the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Albatross Task Force (ATF), a team of experts led by the RSPB and BirdLife International that’s helping to prevent needless albatross deaths.
Every year, an estimated 100,000 albatrosses are killed on hooks and by trawlers, and as a result of this and other factors, 15 of the 22 species of albatross are now facing extinction.
Over the past decade the ATF team has developed simple and effective ways to keep albatrosses off the hook and has been sharing the best techniques and tools with fishermen.
As a result, eight out of 10 of the fisheries we have worked with have adopted measures to reduce albatross deaths and bycatch has been reduced by 99% in the South African trawl fishery – a fantastic result!
In 2016 and early 2017, breakthroughs in Namibia, Argentina and Chile gave us hope that demonstrable conservation successes are within sight in another four fisheries.
The Albatross Task Force
Oli Yates, UK: ‘It’s difficult to see such a large bird, flying so gracefully, without respecting the evolution of such an incredible species.’
Dimas Gianuca, Brazil: ‘When we look at these animals we recognise the majesty and the beauty’.
Clemens Naomab, Namibia: ‘Albatrosses are in great danger of extinction, with 15 out of 22 species under particular threat’.
Bronwyn Maree, South Africa: ‘A world without them would really be a very bleak world indeed’.
The albatross is one of nature’s great survivors. Circumnavigating the globe for perhaps a million years. So when this magnificent bird came under a new and disastrous threat, scientists from all over the world came to its aid.
They are the men and women of the Albatross Task Force. Set up in 2005, when it was realised that 100,000 albatross where being killed accidently each year by commercial fishing.
Oli Yates, Albatross Task Force: ‘For a seabird that has evolved over millennia to find small available pieces of food in a vast ocean desert, a fishing vessel is a huge opportunity for them. When the fishing vessels start setting hooks, with bait on it, a squid or mackerel or something the seabirds target that as they see it as food and when they take that, they get dragged underwater and drowned.’
The Task Force team works alongside the fishing industry to help them change methods so they continue to catch fish without harming the birds.
Bronwyn Maree, Albatross Task Force: ‘As an Albatross Task Force instructor we go out to sea to create awareness. So that’s just explaining to fishermen what the problems are, showing them exactly what’s happening out at sea and showing them the solutions that are available’.
Dimas Gianuca, Albatross Task Force: ‘We are talking with fishermen, explain to them about ocean conservation because it’s hard to explain to someone about extinction when you have 500 birds around the vessel.’
Bronwyn Maree: ‘The fishermen were a little bit sceptical in the view that we were going to stop them fishing, not help them fish in a sustainable way. But now I’ve been working with them for five years and they no longer see us as a threat.’
It’s been a long and difficult process, but the work is paying off. In South Africa alone, the death rate for the albatross has dropped by 99%. Now the Namibian Government is introducing regulations that protect the birds.
Clemens Naomab, Albatross Task Force: ‘About 30,000 birds were killed in Namibia a year. But we are hoping to reduce these numbers by 85-90%.
Rory Crawford, BirdLife Marine Programme: ‘This is an amazing opportunity to have a positive story which really makes a major difference for some of the most incredible animals on the planet.
Bronwyn Maree: ‘Just seeing how graceful and beautiful and exceptionally large they are made me want to put more energy and effort into my work’.
Clemens Naomab: ‘When I started with the project I didn’t really know much about birds, so for me it was just another job. There was this morning I was up in the gantry sitting there and then I looked at the shy albatross: wow, it was beautiful!’
Oli Yates: ‘When you’ve been on the deck of the fishing vessel and you’ve seen what’s happening to the seabirds, I don’t think I could do anything else.’
None of the advances that ATF has made would have been possible without the generous support of the following:
The RSPB membership and private sponsors and donors, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Tilia Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Paramo Directional Clothing.
Turning quarries into homes for wildlife
In 2017, we reached another important anniversary: 10 years of our Nature After Minerals (NAM) programme, through which we work with the minerals industry to restore quarries into homes for nature.
Supported by Natural England, the Minerals Products Association and the British Aggregates Association, NAM has given advice on the creation and management of 3,600 hectares of habitat for wildlife.
The creation of wetland habitat, particularly on former quarries, was identified as a key factor benefitting wildlife in the State of Nature 2016 report. Fifteen per cent of the UK's breeding bitterns now nest in restored quarries, and other species, including otters and bearded tits are benefitting too.
Not only do appropriately restored quarry sites provide a vital refuge for wildlife, they can help with flood alleviation and landscape-scale conservation delivery too.
They are also popular with visitors, proving that biodiversity-led restoration of quarries is good for local communities, helping people to re-connect with nature on their doorsteps.
Liberia's rainforest protected for nature
In September 2016 we were thrilled to hear that the Government of Liberia had passed a Bill officially designating 88,000 hectares of Liberia's rainforest as the Gola Forest National Park.
It also passed the National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Areas Management Act, which is the result of more than six years of work by the Government of Liberia, the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia and the RSPB.
This is great news, as the Gola Rainforest is a global biodiversity hotspot, home to rare pygmy hippos, endangered chimpanzees and more than 300 different bird species.
The park, together with Sierra Leone's Gola Rainforest National Park, creates the largest single block of the remaining Upper Guinea Forest and will allow the two neighbouring countries to work together to promote conservation and sustainable management.
Though there is still a lot of work ahead, this is a tremendous milestone that offers hope for a brighter future for Gola’s wildlife and people.
Great news for black-tailed godwits
In August 2016 we began Project Godwit, which aims to improve the future of black-tailed godwits in the UK, thanks to major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, HSBC, Natural England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Fewer than 60 pairs of these large wading birds nest in the UK, and because of their vulnerable population they appear on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. Thanks to this funding we will be able to embark on a five-year project with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
Together we aim to increase the population and range of black-tailed godwits breeding at the Nene Washes and Ouse Washes, where poor productivity is currently affecting their recovery.
We'll be enhancing habitat for the godwits, trialling methods to increase the number of chicks that successfully fledge and tracking godwits on their migration routes to help us identify sites that are important for them in the non-breeding season.
The partnership will also be trialling the use of "head-starting", which involves rearing godwit chicks in captivity before releasing them to boost the wild population.