Interview with Szabolcs Nagy from Wetlands International - Author of the Conservation Status Report

Why is the Conservation Status Report so important?

The International Conservation Status Report is the only report the AEWA Secretariat produces for each session of the Meeting of the Parties. It enjoys this special status because the Agreement aims to maintain or restore a favorable conservation status of migratory waterbird populations. Every three years, the report compiles the most recent information available and re-assesses the conservation status of every single population covered by AEWA. Based on this, the MOP amends Table 1 of the AEWA Action Plan and through this determines the applicable management regime for each population. The report also provides data for eight of the indicators of the AEWA Strategic Plan. Furthermore, it highlights shortcomings and progress in monitoring and the conservation status of waterbirds and helps to prioritize AEWA actions beyond Africa; West Asia is also given a special consideration. Essentially, the Conservation Status Report is a dashboard for the Agreement, which enables adaptive management of the populations the Agreement aims to maintain or restore to a favorable conservation status. 

What have been the main trends and developments over the last ten years?

Population numbers have significantly improved with reasonable or good quality population trend estimates thanks to the capacity-building projects that took place over the last three years across the flyway. Although the number of declining populations is almost 50% higher than the number of the increasing ones, it is an achievement that the situation has not deteriorated further. Since the ratification of AEWA, the situation is much better than in the American flyways (except North America) or along the East Asian-Australasian flyway and we can even see some modest improvements. The recovery of geese, pelicans and cranes in Europe is a great success story compared to their status in West Asia, a region that has few AEWA parties, much less comprehensive protected area network and less effective harvest management regime. On the other hand, more and more species become Globally Threatened or Near Threatened and the Red List Index shows a decreasing trend. With the new Red List update, the index is expected to show even larger deterioration. The good news is that populations which are subject to active conservation measures generally fair better, with “only” 45% of the populations declining compared to the ones which are not covered by active conservation measures, where 83% of the populations are in decline.    

Szabolcs Nagy © Sergey Dereliev

Which species are especially threatened and for which reasons?

For a long time, we considered grebes, ibises and spoonbills, cranes, rails and waders to be the larger waterbird families with the highest proportion of declining populations and this is still the case. However, currently 49% of the duck, goose and swan populations are also declining compared to 38% measured during the last assessment. In absolute terms, the number of declining duck, swan and goose populations has increased from 38 to 47. It is worrying that the situation has deteriorated now also in the Western Palearctic. The main threats are unsustainable use of biological resources, including poorly managed legal harvest, illegal and accidental killing, natural system modification through a wide variety of human activities that destroy or degrade wetland ecosystems. Invasive and other problematic species, pollution, human intrusion and disturbance as well as agriculture and aquaculture all pose serious threats. However, our collective knowledge of the threats is rather sporadic. Most of the evidence are still anecdotal or statistical and does not comprise the entire range of the population.      

What can be done under AEWA in order to stop the decline of migratory watebirds?

The most threatened populations, particularly Globally Threatened and Near Threatened species need combined actions from all major range states across their flyways. The AEWA Secretariat, in collaboration with other conventions and the EU, is putting a great effort into developing International Single Species Action Plans. If these Plans are implemented, you usually get positive results. However, these species-specific measures require a lot of resources, and the existing funding mechanisms are not very well suited for flyway projects with the notable exception of the EU LIFE+ funding. GEF and other donors should also invest more into coordinated multi-country projects, otherwise investment at one place of the flyway is undermined elsewhere. In addition, the populations of Globally Threatened and Near Threatened species represent only a small fraction of the populations of concern to AEWA - the AEWA Strategic Plan has more ambitious targets. Fortunately, the Action Plan of the Agreement provides a blueprint of what needs to be done: protecting the internationally and nationally important sites and key habitats, ensuring that all harvest is sustainable and unnecessary mortality of waterbirds is prevented. Over the years AEWA has provided a comprehensive set of guidelines. The key issues now are implementation and securing funding.  

Why is waterbird monitoring so important for conservation?

Without monitoring waterbirds, their conservation and management is no better than flying an airplane without a dashboard. It might be fun, but it is extremely dangerous! Waterbird monitoring provides vital information for sustainable harvest management. Two essential indicators needed to manage waterbird populations sustainably, namely the population size and the population growth rate, are produced by monitoring. Unfortunately, national monitoring schemes have limited use without the contextual information international schemes such the International Waterbird Census (IWC) or the Birds in Europe assessments can provide, because migratory waterbirds are not restricted to individual countries and neither their population status nor harvest rates can be managed in isolation. The situation is especially sensitive now, given that almost half of the waterbird populations listed on Annex II of the Birds Directive (which lists huntable species in the European Union) are declining and almost a dozen of the species listed there are Globally Threatened or Near Threatened. This calls for adaptive harvest management coordinated at flyway scale where AEWA could play an important role because these populations are not restricted to the EU. Waterbird monitoring is also essential to assess the status of waterbird populations, to see whether conservation measures are effective. Regular monitoring is also necessary to identify internationally and nationally important sites and evaluate the quality of their management. International summaries, such as the Conservation Status Report or the Waterbird Population Estimates, provide a framework for assessing site level trends in a flyway context.   

How can we bridge the regional differences when it comes to migratory waterbird conservation?

As I mentioned before, migratory waterbirds are a shared resource and a shared responsibility. AEWA Contracting Parties agreed to the same goals when they ratified the Agreement and committed themselves to maintaining or restoring waterbird populations to a favourable conservation status. AEWA provides a mechanism to negotiate flyway level agreements on shared management objectives, which can incorporate and reflect regional differences. The key problem is that the countries along the flyway have fundamentally different technical and financial capacities. The region includes some of the richest as well as some of the poorest countries on Earth. These differences can be bridged through activities such as training, twinning, secondments and joint projects integrating AEWA’s objectives into bilateral or multilateral aid. The buy-in into the implementation of the Plan of Action for Africa by donor countries is rather disappointing. Only a handful of countries have contributed to it, although it would have been in the best interest of the EU and all EU Member States to invest heavily in the Plan of Action for Africa. It would safeguard their own investment into domestic conservation efforts. Hopefully, with the Climate Resilient Critical Site Network in the African-Eurasian flyway project that Wetlands International is just starting with the support from the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, we can demonstrate that conservation of biodiversity can be combined with safeguarding livelihoods. This approach represents the best value for everyone involved.  

Which message would you like to convey to delegates attending MOP?

The results of our current and previous reviews confirm that conservation works and that AEWA is a functioning Agreement with a very clear and specific focus. At this stage the Agreement has reached its adulthood and started to deliver results. We need to maintain this momentum.

Last updated on 13 November 2015

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