From September 5 till 9, more than 250 ornithologists gathered on the EBCC conference „Bird Numbers 2016: Birds in a changing world“, in Halle (Saale), Germany. The conference is being held every three years and aims to bring up-to-date research results, conservation actions and policy issues that need to be addressed. The three main projects of the EBCC (PECBMS, EBP and EBBA2), which are supported and conducted by thousands of volunteers across Europe, have also been an essential part of the conference.
The second week of September was reserved for the EBCC conference that is traditionally being held every three years in different parts of Europe. This year, it was organized by DDA (Dachverband Deutscher Avifaunisten) and hosted by the Martin-Luther University in Halle (Saale), Germany. The conference programme was packed with interesting research findings and the three EBCC core projects (PECBMS, EBP and EBBA2) had a prominent role in the conference programme.
Atlas (EBBA2) work continues across Europe
Many European countries are currently working on their national atlases. In some cases, especially in western and central Europe, these are repeated atlases which can provide new baselines for improved knowledge across large areas and for all species. In particular, these repeated atlases are extremely valuable to assess distribution change in various ways, as shown in a plenary talk specifically dedicated to this topic. The Danish and the Dutch bird atlases were two nice examples of these repeated atlases presented in the conference. On the other hand, many eastern and south-eastern countries are currently conducting atlas fieldwork in the context of EBBA2, which has facilitated some financial support and capacity building opportunities. By engaging in mapping for the EBBA2 some countries have managed to motivate their own ornithologists and now aim to produce their first national atlas. Training workshops for EBBA2 that were held in several low capacity and priority countries seem to be bearing fruit. Some very bright examples were presented at the EBCC conference, such as the bird atlas work in Armenia and in Ukraine, which have rapidly increased their coverage during the last two years.
Birds as indicators
There is a growing body of research showing that birds can tell us a lot about the state and health of our environment, changes in their population size and distribution can indicate a lot of various environmental changes, ranging from habitat loss (due to agriculture, urbanisation, infrastructure etc) to climate change. A group of researches has, for the first time, developed a montane bird indicator, covering all major mountain ranges in Europe. It seems that montane birds generally have a declining trend across Europe, with only the Alps showing a positive trend. Choosing particular species for indicators has traditionally been done through expert assessment, and since then new approaches, such as trait based approaches are emerging. This niche-based approach has been implemented recently in Austria while developing their forest bird indicator. In common bird monitoring scheme, the trend of the farmland bird species is extremely worrying since these have a long-term declining trend which so far has not been appropriately addressed by policies within the EU.
Agriculture intensification and inadequate EU policies as a driving force of farmland bird decline in Europe
A study that used the results of all countries within the EU and their common bird monitoring scheme, showed that the EU nature policies are currently only able to reduce and not reverse the declining trend of farmland birds. The same result was also confirmed by a smaller scale study taking into account only the Wallonia region in Belgium, and the inefficiency of arable agri-environmental schemes was clearly shown in the case of Hungary. Changes in the agricultural practices that are now happening in the eastern parts of Europe are also threatening the strongholds of many farmland species. The complexity of the situation within the EU regarding the agricultural policies, perverse subsidies and bending the rules when it comes to measures that are aimed at protecting the biodiversity measures can indeed be very gloomy. However, if we will want to change the current course of business as usual to a more sustainable one, it is clear that a mass public engagement will be necessary in the near future in order to preserve our farmland birds.
Thinking globally about our migrant birds
For successful conservation of all species, we need to look further than Europe. There has been amazing work going on in southern Africa where the current continuous atlas project has managed to gather as much as 22 million open-access records so far and continues to grow. However, a complex understanding of wintering grounds in Africa and migration stop-overs in Maghreb and Mediterranean is essential for our future conservation actions. Hopefully, more research and capacity building in these areas will increase the awareness and target particular issues from which bird species can benefit year-round.
Volunteers and citizen science at the heart of all EBCC activities
Volunteers that collect the data in the field are at the core of all EBCC projects (PECBMS, EBP, EBBA2) that contribute to this global knowledge on the distribution pattern and changes in bird communities. A dedicated fieldworker in Denmark managed to perform 223 line transects for the purposes of their national atlas; the entire Euro Bird Portal currently offers up to 1.5 million map combinations that are regularly updated based on the data from on-line portals across Europe; and the situation with bird enthusiasts and volunteers is gradually improving in south-eastern and eastern Europe where birdwatching has a much shorter tradition. The core of the EBCC says: Every bird counts, which can likewise be applied to Every birdwatcher counts. So, do not lose your enthusiasm and whenever you have a chance do not miss the opportunity to go to the field and observe these magnificent creatures. And of course, do not forget to provide your observations since this really matters in the fast changing world we are currently living in.
Marina Kipson, 14.9.2016.