Working for birds in Africa

Birds show that world is falling short of biodiversity target

Date posted: 
Thursday, October 9, 2008

In 2002 the world’s governments took the unprecedented step of committing themselves to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. With two years to go, birds are showing that we are falling far short of the target – and that, far from slowing down, the rate of biodiversity loss is still accelerating. This is the conclusion of State of the Worlds Birds, a new website and publication from BirdLife International showcased today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

“Global change in biodiversity is hard to measure and effective indicators are still in short supply”, said Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife’s Head of Science and lead editor on the State of the Worlds Birds report. “This is where birds can really help, as we know much more about them than for most other animals and plants. Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world’s biodiversity.”

State of the Worlds Birds highlights several indicators that help to measure progress towards the 2010 target. The Red List Index for birds, based on the number and status of threatened species, shows that bird species are slipping faster than ever towards extinction. Other measures, including the Wild Bird Index for Europe, highlight rapid erosion around the world in the populations of more common and widespread birds, including songbirds, birds of prey, waterbirds and many migrant species. Initial results from monitoring of key sites, the Important Bird Areas, shows that their condition continues to deteriorate, though, encouragingly, more conservation responses are being put in place.

“Overall, the rate of deterioration has been speeding up since our last global assessment in 2004,” says Alison Stattersfield. “The accelerating decline in relatively common and widespread birds is especially alarming and can be linked to ever-increasing pressures on natural habitats. Our data suggest that recent policy changes such as the drive towards producing biofuels are damaging biodiversity and seriously undermining efforts to meet the 2010 target.”

Not all the news is bad. A companion report, Critically Endangered birds: A global audit, also showcased today at the IUCN meeting, shows that 16 bird extinctions have been prevented in recent years through conservation action. Eighteen Critically Endangered birds have also now qualified for lower categories of threat.

“It is clear that conservation action can and does work”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “What we need is commitment, from decision-makers and not just conservationists. It’s time to recognize the real value of biodiversity and for Governments to honour the commitments they have made to invest in its conservation. Given the enormous benefits that biodiversity provides to people, the investment needed to look after it represents an absolute bargain.”

BirdLife’s State of the world’s birds website provides the most up-to-date information on bird indicators, threatened birds and Important Bird Areas, and a searchable database of carefully documented and referenced case studies expanding on and supporting the overall analysis. It is a flexible and authoritative resource for decision-makers, conservation practitioners and researchers looking for information on the condition of the world’s birds, the pressures on them and the responses needed.

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