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Migratory Wading Birds At Risk Across the Middle East, Africa
LONDON, UK, May 28, 2009 (ENS) - Populations of migratory wading birds in Europe, West Asia and Africa are declining more quickly than ever, and they need better protection of wetlands along their flyways, finds the first comprehensive overview of key sites for these small waterbirds in Europe, West-Asia and Africa.

The Wetlands International's Wader Atlas released May 20 in London contains this overview and also shows that there is an incomplete network of protected areas for these birds, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

Flamingoes and other wading birds at Bar al Hikman, Oman, February 2008. (Photo by Pieter van Eijk courtesy Wetlands International)

The product of 10 years of work by thousands of coordinated expert observers in nearly 100 countries, the atlas was funded by the governments of Belgium, the UK and The Netherlands, and a United Nations treaty, the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement.

Waders are small waterbirds such as lapwings, plovers, godwits, curlews and sandpipers as well as larger birds such as flamingoes. Many of them undertake long distance migrations from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas as far away as Southern Africa. Some concentrate in huge numbers at just a few sites, making these wetlands critical for their survival.

The European Union has established a comprehensive network of protected areas for waders in Europe under the Birds Directive.

But outside the EU the protection and management of key sites is still inadequate. A string of wetlands concentrated on the western coast of Africa, in the Sahel zone along the Senegal and Niger rivers, around Lake Chad, and in East Africa in the Sudd, along the Rift Valley and eastern coast of Africa, is crucial for the survival of many migratory waders, the atlas shows.

Wader Atlas author Simon Delany said, “Waders such as the ruff are heavily protected in the EU; farmers receive thousands of Euros for nest protection. These same birds are for sale in the markets of Mopti, Mali for just 25 cents each! If just a part of the finance available in the EU for waterbird protection were to go to the areas where these same birds winter, a huge difference could be made.”

If the European investment in protecting waders is to be effective, wetland sites utilized by the ruff, Philomachus pugnax, must be included in EU conservation strategy, Delany urges.

Wetlands International is a global organization that works to sustain and restore wetlands and their resources for people and biodiversity. The Wader Atlas identifies 876 key sites such as lakes, coastal areas, floodplains for 59 of the 90 wader species in those countries covered by the UN African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement.

Ruffs and a black-winged stilt, Novouzensky, Saratovskaya, Russia (Photo by Sergey Yeliseev)

Amongst these, the book identifies 68 sites at which more than five wader species occur in internationally important numbers, calculated as more than one percent of global population. There are 112 sites where more than 40,000 waders have been counted.

Delany says the wetlands of the African west coast are under enormous pressures. The sparse water resources in the Sahelian zone are tapped by dams on the Niger or Senegal rivers, which have turned formerly shallow wetlands into permanently dry lands.

Irrigation disrupts the water flow in wetlands such as Lake Chad. Delany says that often wetlands themselves are converted to agricultural use, such as in the Tana River Delta in Kenya, which is threatened by conversion to sugar cane plantations.

Wetlands in the Middle East are under similar threats. Many waders migrate from the Arctic and Scandinavia to the coastal zones along the Persian Gulf. These coastal areas are now suffering from rapid development which threatens the habitat of the scarce and declining broad billed Sandpiper, Delany says.

The Wader Atlas highlights the most important wetlands to be protected for each wader population, providing decision makers across the Africa-Eurasian region with crucial information so that they can increase and better focus their efforts for wetland conservation.

Better water management preserving the Sahelian wetlands benefits not only waders, but also local people and the involvement of local people in protection strategies for waders has been successful in many regions.

Species' chapters and high resolution photos of the book can be downloaded from: www.wetlands.org/waderatlas

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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