Two endangered Lear's Macaws in flight. Andy & Gill Swash. A\J.

Lear's Macaw is endangered due to smuggling and agricultural expansion, but intensive conservation efforts are starting to increase its population. Photo: Andy & Gill Swash \ worldwildlifeimages.com

Last week, delegates from over 120 countries flocked to Ottawa for the BirdLife International World Congress. From June 19-22, they shared innovative ideas for tackling conservation challenges that threaten birds and ecosystems around the globe.

With over 13 million members and over 120 partner organizations, BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation partnership. Its local-to-global approach supports and connects people internationally as they work to protect nature in their own backyards.

On June 20th, BirdLife launched the third edition of their State of the World’s Birds report: their most comprehensive overview to date of the conservation issues threatening bird populations. A concise and catchy style accented with engaging infographics make it a treat to read, but if you haven’t got the time, here’s the “Coles Notes” version:

1 in 8 bird species is threatened with extinction

BirdLife’s assessment concluded that 1,331 species – approximately one eighth of all bird species – are currently threatened with global extinction.

Top threats include industrial agriculture, deforestation, invasive species, climate change and fisheries

Agricultural expansion is driving the destruction of virgin forests in Southeast Asia and grasslands in Canada, among other important bird habitats. Invasive species, notably rats and cats, are a big problem for island birds in particular. Up to one half of all bird species are considered especially vulnerable to climate change due to their location (habitats that are likely to be affected) and biological traits (low tolerance to climatic fluctuations and low ability to disperse to a new location).

Global threats to endangered bird species from the State of the World's Birds report, BirdLife International.Global threats to bird species. Infographic by BirdLife International. Click for larger view.

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are not sufficiently protected

IBAs include over 12,000 priority areas for conservation, identified using standardised, scientifically defensible criteria. They host globally threatened birds, birds with restricted ranges and/or a large number of migratory birds and are also important sites for plants and other animals.   

State of the World’s Birdspoints out that only about half of all IBAs currently receive legal protection and many are under pressure from human activities. Vulnerable sites that are home to globally threatened species have been identified as conservation targets.

Protecting nature would cost less than fuel, bombs and even pop

The estimated cost of protecting and managing all IBAs is US $57.8 billion/year. Combining this with the price tag for protecting all other wildlife groups brings the total cost of nature conservation up to US $80 billion/year. “The total sums may sound large, but they are small in terms of government budgets, and they should be seen as investments, not bills,” according to Dr. Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science. “Saving nature makes economic sense because of the payback in terms of services and benefits that people receive in return, from mitigating climate change to pollinating crops.”

BirdLife offers these figures to put the cost of protecting nature in perspective (annual, in billions of US dollars):

  • $252 – Agricultural subsidies in OECD nations
  • $469 – Global spending on soft drinks
  • $1753 – Global military spending
  • $1900 – Global fossil fuel subsidies
  • $3814 – Combined revenue of the world’s ten largest companies

Conservation works

While BirdLife partners have their work cut out for them, they can be encouraged by evidence that concerted conservation efforts get results. Species such as the Seychelles Magpie-Robin and Mauritius Parakeet have been pulled back from the brink of extinction. In Canada, wetlands conservation has boosted waterfowl populations and banning organochlorine pesticides has helped raptors rebound.

This year’s World Congress also saw BirdLife International launch its 2020 Strategy, which outlines conservation objectives to be put in action through BirdLife’s nine global programmes. Two new programmes were introduced this year: the Invasive Alien Species Programme and the Local Empowerment Programme, which will focus on the links between poverty alleviation, sustainable development and nature conservation.

Delegates, including business people from a variety of industries, also explored the importance of collaboration between the non-profit and private sectors. Chris Wille, Director of sustainable agriculture for Rainforest Alliance, was keynote speaker at one event. From his perspective, “alliances between environmental NGOs and the corporate community are vital to ensure companies’ need for growth and risk management while improving their environmental footprint and engaging in targeted conservation action.”

If you’re as excited about BirdLife International’s work as I am, you might want to get involved with its Canadian partners, Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada. Not a Canuck? Find the complete listing of BirdLife partners here.

Ellen Jakubowski is a former A\J editorial intern with a BSc in Biology from the University of Guelph and a science communication diploma from Laurentian University. She works as an interpreter at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and blogs about animals in The Wild Side.

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