Saving the spoon-billed sandpiper
The available data suggest that the spoon-billed sandpiper population is undergoing a rapid decline and, if current trends continue, the species could be extinct within a decade.
- Due to the dramatic and continued population decline we are supporting a conservation breeding programme. A captive population of spoon-billed sandpipers has been established at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) Slimbridge as a safety net in case the species goes extinct in the wild. When the environmental conditions are right, captive-bred birds could be released into the wild to supplement existing wild populations, or re-establish the species if it becomes extinct. This work is being undertaken in partnership with the WWT, Birds Russia, Birdlife International and the British Trust for Ornithology.
- Reducing the number of waders killed by bird trappers is essential if we are to increase juvenile survival rates (and thus the number of birds returning to the breeding grounds). Trapping of waders is being tackled through working with a wide range of partners in wintering countries. So far, by providing bird trappers with alternative livelihoods, hunting of waders has been halted at some critical sites. We'll be working to expand this approach to other critical sites across the wintering grounds, and the migration routes if necessary.
- Boosting productivity on the breeding grounds is also vitally important. Therefore, we are supporting a programme of work known as 'head-starting'. This involves moving eggs from nests on the tundra into incubators. Once the eggs hatch, the chicks are kept in aviaries until they are able to fly and are then released back into the wild. So far, head-starting has increased the number of chicks fledged per clutch by as much as 400 per cent.
- In the long term we need to ensure that a network of key intertidal staging posts are available for all wading birds, not just spoon-billed sandpipers. We are working with partners on protecting habitats through site designation (eg Ramsar), international flyway policy, possible casework and even through habitat creation and management (managed re-alignment, which is increasingly common in Europe, could be an option at some sites in the future).
- May 2011: we supported an expedition to Chukotka in the far north-east of Siberia to collect eggs and establish the conservation breeding programme.
- June and July 2011: the first eggs were collected, transferred to an incubator and hatched.
- August-November 2011: chicks were transferred to Moscow Zoo for 30 days' quarantine and then on to WWT Slimbridge.
- February 2012: the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force met in Palembang Indonesia.
- April 2012: 12 first-year birds were doing well in the conservation breeding facilities at WWT Slimbridge.
- 2012 and 2013: surveys of bird hunters were conducted in Myanmar and Bangladesh. They were then supported with alternative livelihoods while agreeing to cease hunting birds. Local conservation groups were also established, which included ex-hunters, to monitor local shorebird populations.
- June-July 2012: the RSPB supported a second expedition to Chukotka to collect eggs and bring them back to the UK. Seventeen chicks hatched at WWT Slimbridge to supplement the future conservation breeding programme.
- July 2012: an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) desk study was published (supported by the RSPB), identifying key issues for migratory shorebirds along the coast of the Yellow Sea between China and Korea.
- Summer 2013: the captive population at Slimbridge was doing well and needed no further supplementation. However, a third expedition to Chukotka was carried out, focusing on head-starting.
- 2013: Demarcation of a boundary for a potential Ramsar site in the Gulf of Mottama, Myanmar, was conducted with the involvement of national and local government officials.
- October 2014: the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force met near one of the most important migratory stop-over sites in Jiangsu Province, China.
- Winters of 2013/14 and 2014/15: surveys were conducted in all wintering countries, with representatives from the RSPB supporting surveys in the most critical sites. Results indicated the population may be stabilising.
- The captive population at Slimbridge will be maintained, and is expected to start breeding soon. Head-starting work will continue.
- Work to protect and monitor spoon-billed sandpipers and their habitats will continue in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Support is being extended to Vietnam.
- An advocacy officer has been appointed to work in the region to work with NGOs and government agencies to improve habitat conservation across the flyway.
- The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
- Birds Russia
- BirdLife International
- British Trust for Ornithology
- East Asian-Australasian Flyway partnership
- Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force
- ArcCona Consulting
- Moscow Zoo
- Heritage Expeditions
- Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project
- Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (Myanmar)
- Bird Conservation Society of Thailand
- Viet Nature (Vietnam)