Aug. 11, 2007 In the first scientific analysis of its kind anywhere in the world, the RSPB has shown that one example of protecting birds at a continental scale has improved the fortunes of the most threatened and vulnerable European species – signaling that conservation works, if it is enshrined in law.
In a ground-breaking paper published in Science, the RSPB shows that the Birds Directive - a law protecting birds across the European Union - has successfully protected those species considered to be at most risk and in need of most urgent protection and has made a significant difference in protecting many of Europe’s birds from further decline.
When the Birds Directive became law in 1979, the Directive required that a number of species be the subject of special conservation measures, particularly through the designation of Special Protection Areas. Importantly, today’s research shows these ‘special’ species have not only performed more successfully than other bird species in the European Union, but also that these species have fared better in the European Union than populations of the same species in other European countries.
Dr Paul Donald, a conservation biologist with the RSPB, is the paper’s senior author. He said: 'For over 25 years, the Birds Directive has assisted member states to provide proper protection for those birds considered to be facing the greatest threats. Today we can reveal that this protection has apparently worked.'
On the up
There are 46 species that were listed on Annex 1 before 1993 which nest or winter regularly in the UK, and the research has shown that the populations of at least 23 of these species have increased. Notable examples of species which have increased include avocet, marsh harrier, nightjar, woodlark, Dartford warbler , stone-curlew, osprey, bittern and red kite.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: 'In the UK, the Birds Directive has been pivotal in ensuring the continuing protection of key sites for our most important and threatened birds. Without the Birds Directive, our research shows that many of these birds would be facing a bleaker future through increased persecution, site damage and habitat destruction.
'This far-sighted legislation is now 25 years old, but it remains highly relevant today, continuing to integrate the needs of conservation and development.'
Across the European Union, the RSPB and BirdLife International hopes this research will encourage governments, especially those of the new member states, to full comply with the Birds Directive.
UK must honour its commitments
Dr Mark Avery added: 'Europe has a world-class conservation law and there is no excuse for delays in its full implementation. We expect the UK to honor its commitments under the Birds Directive and press on with designating all sites that meet the criteria, especially in the seas around the UK where governments have been pitifully slow in designating Special Protection Areas.'
The RSPB and BirdLife International are warning that insufficient designation and protection of sites, lack of funding for site management and unsustainable agriculture all could reverse the successes of the Birds Directive, perpetuating dramatic declines in Europe’s wildlife.
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