In brief

Some of the best nature conservation success stories from around the RSPB this year.

Wild adult white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) in flight.Pinjore, Haryana, India

Landmark vulture release in Nepal

History was made in November 2017 when six captive-reared, Critically Endangered white-rumped vultures were released into the wild in Nepal. This was the first-ever vulture release in South Asia, marking the beginning of the next phase of vulture conservation in Nepal.

For years, Bird Conservation Nepal and the RSPB have been working as part of the Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) project to ensure the region is free of the veterinary painkiller diclofenac, and in so doing, create the world’s first Vulture Safe Zone. If livestock treated with diclofenac die shortly after treatment, their carcasses are lethal to vultures that feed on them. SAVE brought about a ban on veterinary diclofenac in 2006 and since then the decline of the vulture population has slowed and the species may be beginning to recover. 

In the next phase of the project, we will be fitting satellite transmitters to wild and captive-bred vultures and monitoring their survival to help us evaluate the success of the Vulture Safe Zone and captive breeding programme.

Protecting the Inner Niger Delta

The Inner Niger Delta in Central Mali on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, is one of the most important floodplains in Africa, both for wildlife and people.

Two million people rely on the area for agriculture, food production and fishing and the area is also vital for birds. The delta is home to around 1.5 million yellow wagtails; Lake Debo, formed by the delta’s seasonal flooding, is a vital area for 500,000 sand martins; and the wetland is important for many intra-African and Palearctic migrant birds.

The area is threatened by the proposed construction of the Fomi Dam, which would reduce water flowing into the Inner Niger Delta by 23%. This will have huge detrimental impacts to people and nature. After the World Bank pulled out of the project, it was announced that the Chinese would construct the dam and it is unclear what social and environmental safeguards are now in place.

There is no BirdLife Partner in Mali, so the RSPB is working with Wetlands International, who have been working in the area for many years.

Birds of prey still under fire in the UK

Since 1990, we have published Birdcrime each year – a report which summarises offences against birds of prey in the UK. It is available to view online at rspb.org.uk/birdcrime.

Sadly, despite full legal protection, we still have a major issue with birds of prey being deliberately and illegally killed. In the uplands, raptors are especially targeted on land used for driven grouse shooting. Birds such as the hen harrier, which is barely clinging on as a breeding species in England, are particularly at risk from human persecution.

The latest report, published in November 2017, contains the complete 2016 data on wild bird crime. There were 81 confirmed raptor persecution incidents including 40 confirmed shooting incidents, 22 confirmed poison abuse incidents and 15 trapping incidents. Many raptor crimes go undetected and unreported, so these figures only scratch the surface.

The RSPB is calling for the Government to license driven grouse shooting, with the option of removing an estate’s license if illegal activity is identified.

Giving nature a home in the Gola forest

We’re still working hard to help both people and nature in Sierra Leone and Liberia. This year, we’ve secured $1.8 million from the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Programme to scale up conservation work across the 350,000 hectare Greater Gola forest transboundary landscape.

We have also exported Gola cocoa to international craft buyers, and hope to produce our own RSPB Gola chocolate later in 2018. The cocoa is grown by farmers living around the Gola Rainforest National Park using sustainable methods, which helps to protect the forest and the wildlife that calls it home. The cocoa also provides the farmers with improved livelihoods and food security.

It was a strong year for research into the Gola malimbe, a small, brightly-coloured forest weaver, found at only five known sites. Not only was the species found in good numbers in four of the five sites studied, we now have a greater understanding of its habitat, nesting and feeding preferences, leading to the designation of high-risk areas.