Wings over Wetlands Project Takes Flight

CAMBRIDGE, UK, November 27, 2006 (ENS) - From the southern tip of Africa to northern Greenland, conservation of critical areas needed by migrating waterbirds flying across continents is the aim of a new project created by a coalition of conservation organizations and UN agencies.

The US$12 million Wings over Wetlands Project is the largest international wetland and waterbird conservation initiative ever to take place in the African-Eurasian region. Leading conservation groups BirdLife International and Wetlands International will coordinate with local partners in 12 countries.

Launched November 20, the Wings over Wetlands Project will focus on enhancing information and coordinating measures to conserve the critical network of sites on which many threatened waterbirds depend.

“Migrating birds see no borders. Conserving them and their critical habitats may only be achieved through improved collaboration between national governments, local and international conservation organizations and local communities,” said Edoardo Zandri, chief technical advisor for the Wings Over Wetlands project.


Purple heron, Ardea purpurea, in South Africa's Wakkerstroom Wetlands. The European populations are migratory, wintering in tropical Africa. The more northerly Asian populations migrate further south within Asia. (Photo courtesy SAhotspots)
The unique flyway-scale conservation project will cover the entire African-Eurasian area as defined in the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, AEWA.

This waterbird conservation agreement is the largest of its kind developed so far under the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also known as CMS or the Bonn Convention. The treaty aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range.

The Wings over Wetlands project area includes all of Africa, all of Europe and southwest Asia, the Middle East and the Central Asian states, Greenland and even stretches to encompass the Canadian Archipelago.

"Conservation of migratory waterbirds will depend on international cooperation between all countries on the migration routes as well as the engagement of local people in conserving the critical wetland sites," said Ward Hagemeijer of Wetlands International. "In developing countries, the livelihoods of local people as well as waterbirds depend on these wetlands and the water supplies that sustain them."

The project is intended to help foster international collaboration along entire flyways and aims to build capacity for monitoring and conservation and demonstrate best practice in the conservation and wise use of wetlands in the 12 countries selected.

The project will synchronize 11 demonstration site projects in 12 countries - Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Turkey, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Niger, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Yemen.

These 11 important wetland areas range from the Biharugra's Fishponds in Hungary to the Wakkerstoom Wetlands in South Africa.

An additional nine critical wetland areas throughout the region will directly benefit from the four year project which runs from 2007 through 2010.

“Waterbird migrations are an extraordinary and very valuable natural phenomenon, which this project will help safeguard for the future,” said Leon Bennun, director of science, policy and information at BirdLife International.

The project is a joint effort between BirdLife International, UNEP-GEF, the United Nations Office for Project Services, and Wetlands International, and will operate in close coordination with the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and a wide range of local partners along the African-Eurasian Flyways.


The white stork, Ciconia ciconia, is not considered endangered. (Photo by K. Thomson/NABU courtesy AEWA)
This work is financially supported by the UNEP Global Environment Facility, the German government, the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat and several other donors.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, "Without the wintering areas for the white stork in Africa or the breeding areas in Siberia for the geese hibernating in the Wadden Sea, all protection efforts in Europe are useless."

"Acknowledging the need for wide ranging international flyway cooperation, I welcome the international support of this project including an important German contribution of one million euros," said Gabriel.

Migratory waterbirds and the wetlands they use to complete their migrations are "indispensable components of biodiversity and represent enormous recreational and economic benefits," said Bert Lenten, executive secretary of AEWA, the international treaty dedicated to the conservation of waterbirds in Africa and Eurasia.

"Their ecology is still poorly understood and habitats and species are under increasing threat worldwide," he said.

Wings Over Wetlands will help identify sites that are critically important for waterbirds to complete their annual life cycle such as staging areas and wintering grounds that will be useful in assessing problems these species encounter on their annual journeys.

The AEWA covers 235 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle, including many species of divers, grebes, pelicans, cormorants, herons, storks, rails, ibises, spoonbills, flamingos, ducks, swans, geese, cranes, waders, gulls, terns and even the south African penguin.

As part of its work, Wings Over Wetlands will create a new online information portal that is intended as an improved source of reliable information on migratory flight paths across the continents.

On the Web:

  • Wetlands International

  • Birdlife International

  • African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement