Conservation of waders
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Activities aiming at support of diversity and high numbers of waders belong to the WGW priorities along with fundamental studies of these birds. Various activities of people increasingly affect wild nature including waders and their habitats. Hunting, melioration of wetlands, regulation of river flow, reclamation of floodplains and deltas, and concentration of human population along coasts of water bodies and oceans have strong impacts on waders and other waterbirds. Some of the human activities can be beneficial for waders, e.g. creation of artificial water bodies (reservoirs, fish ponds, sediment ponds, etc.), moderate grazing on wet meadows, deterrence of some species of predators in settlement vicinity.
Numerous questions need to be addressed in connection to interactions of people with waders including the following: where and how human activities have the main impact on wader populations, what are the “bottlenecks” in natural history of various species making them vulnerable, which species and populations are declining, and what should be done to moderate impact of people on nature and to prevent extinction of species? Addressing of these and other challenges and thus ensuring co-existence of waders (and other components of biodiversity) with people can only be based on scientific knowledge. Accordingly, conservation of waders cannot be separated from scientific research.
Features of wader biology essential for conservation
Species and populations of waders share many characteristics that need to be taken into account for conservation of these birds. Features attributable to most species include the following.
– Preference of open wet habitats, and usually of shores during the non-breeding period;
– Dispersed distribution during breeding period and aggregation, sometimes in very large numbers, during migrations and on non-breedinggrounds;
– Most species belong to long-distance migrants, crossing borders of several countries in the course of a seasonal migration.
Scientific principles for wader conservation
– Conservation of birds and their habitats on every stage of their annual cycle;
– Population approach to development of conservation measures;
– High priority of conservation in core areas of population breeding ranges, and top priority conservation in areas of mass aggregation during migrations and in non-breeding areas;
– Particular attention to state of relict populations;
– Combining of sites vitally important for waders into networks of protected areas, using various levels of territorial protection;
– Artificial creation of wader habitats as an alternative to loss of valuable habitats for migrants due to reclamation of wetlands in course of economic development;
– Accumulation of scientific information on population numbers, migratory links and limiting factors;
– Establishing of a system of population monitoring;
– Exclusion of the majority of small-sized wader species from a list of “conditionally game” species in Russia;
– Ecological education, rising of awareness and stimulation of concern about biodiversity conservation among local people;
– Development of international cooperation in conservation of waders and their habitats on all levels (general public, science, governments).
Conservation of rare and endangered species of waders
Most rare and endangered species, subspecies and populations of waders were included in Red Data Books of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. These official documents along with Red Data Books of the provinces of the Russian Federation assign special protection status to included birds and provide legal ground for conservation measures. Lists and books on rare birds prepared and published by international conservational organizations (e.g., IUCN Red List, Red Data Book of Asia) are recommendatory, but they serve as guides for ecologists, politicians and national conservational organizations.
International conservation bodies, like BirdLife International, develop “Action Plans” on conservation of endangered species, or rapidly declining species. As to species relevant to the CIS, such international documents were developed for Slender-billed Curlew, Sociable Lapwing, Black-winged Pratincole and Great Snipe. Development of national Action Plans on the basis of these documents is an important objective.
Evaluation of population numbers belongs to baseline activities preceding application of specific conservation measures and essential for understanding importance of wetlands for populations (Delany & Scott 2002, Thorup 2006). Population numbers are estimated in course of counts, sometimes conducted on the breeding grounds (e.g., Syroechkovski 2005), but typically in the non-breeding grounds where most waders concentrate near water bodies and thus easier to be counted. The latter information almost exclusively comes from surveys conducted abroad. Population estimates are essentially approximate and are adjusted as new information becomes available.
Linking of non-breeding concentrations where birds are counted with their breeding grounds is essential task for interpretation of survey results. Many studies of migratory links of wader populations have been conducted with the help of ringing, colour-marking and analysis of biometrics, but much still remains to be learnt.
Delany S. & Scott D. 2002. Waterbird population estimates – Third edition. – Wetlands International Global Series No. 12. Wageningen, The Netherlands. 226 p.
Syroechkovski E., Jr. 2005. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper on the edge: a review of breeding distribution, population estimates and plans for conservation in Russia. – P. Straw (ed.). Status and Conservation of Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Wetlands International Global Series 18, International Wader Studies 10. Sydney, Australia. Pp. 169-174.
Thorup O. (comp.) 2006. Breeding Waders in Europe 2000. – International Wader Studies 14. International Wader Study Group, UK. 2006. 142 p.
Monitoring of wader populations
Operative information about changes in state of populations can be only obtained in course of periodic representative surveys. Wader population monitoring is unfortunately missing in Russia, which does not allow to track population changes. Faunistic information (see project “The Atlas of the breeding waders of the Russian Arctic”) allows revealing considerable changes in species ranges and population. Logistical conditions for long-term population monitoring both on breeding and migration exist primarily in nature reserves. Numbers of some species are difficult or even impossible to assess on the breeding grounds, with migration routes or/and non-breeding areas remaining the only option for monitoring.
Habitat protection is the most efficient way of waterbird conservation, but to be effective it requires protection of areas vital for birds on all stages of their annual cycle: breeding, migration, moult and wintering. Given that creation of strict nature reserves in all areas important for waders is impossible, other types of protected areas should be considered given that some wader species readily come even to urbanized areas. Effective protection of wader habitats can be achieved only when it is based on a combination of protected areas of international, federal and local importance.
Protection of areas where migrant waders concentrate in mass is of special importance, because destruction of key sites can disrupt the whole migration system of at least some species on that flyway. The most important site for migrant waders in the Russian Far East is the Moroshechnaya River estuary, which was designated in 1994 by the Russian Government as a Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance), and then added to The East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network in 1996. An inventory of key wetlands has just started, and extensive work is yet to be conducted.
Reclamation of highly productive habitats used by waders as stop-over sites for replenishing their energetic reserves during migrations, as well as hunting and associated disturbance can lead to rapid population declines, unless alternative habitats are available. This should be accounted for during planning of economic activities on seacoasts and shores of inland water bodies in arid areas.
Pollution of wetlands, in particular of seacoasts, with oil products and other chemical agents is of special concern, given expansion of oil production on shelves of the Arctic and Far Eastern seas. Significant oil-spills have become common in breeding areas of waders in north West Siberia and in the vicinity of stop-over concentrations of waders and other birds at northeastern Sakhalin. Further increase of frequency of such events and affected areas, particularly in key migration sites, can become catastrophic for some populations of waders.
Ecological education, rising of awareness and stimulation of concern about biodiversity conservation among local people are imperative for successful conservation of waders. For example ecological education and creation of public opinion are likely the most effective ways to force authorities to exclude small-sized species of waders from a list of game species, and to promote use of environmentally friendly technologies in exploitation of nature resources.
International issues in conservation of waders
A paradigm developed by ecologists about the necessity to conserve migratory birds at all stages of their annual cycle (breeding, migration and wintering) is the only correct approach, because breaking of a single link in this chain may turn out to be fatal. This is why international cooperation is imperative for conservation of waders across the whole spread of their ranges.
Most waders spend main part of their life outside of the CIS borders. All countries annually visited by waders for breeding, during migrations, for moult or wintering are equally responsible for this international resource. As a diverse group of birds undertaking long-distance migrations waders among others have justified participation of the USSR, and Russia as its successor, in a series of multilateral (Ramsar convention on wetlands) and bilateral (conventions on conservation of migratory birds with India, North Korea, Republic of Korea, USA and Japan) international agreements. In 1996 Australia suggested to establish The East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network. This initiative was widely supported internationally, and was also joined by Russia, which officially designated the Moroshchnaya River estuary, the largest stop-over site of waders on the flyway, into the network.
Such international agreements and conventions can become an important tool for wader conservation by promoting various conservation projects and initiatives and aiding ecological education. However, their potential is currently insufficiently employed. Accordingly, governmental organizations and NGOs in the CIS countries should participate more actively in conservation activities ensuing national obligations on already ratified international treaties, including the Convention on Biodiversity.
The WGW activities related to conservation of waders and their habitats are diverse. Since the first years of creation the WGW has been contacting governmental agencies with requests to protect waders and their habitats, based on resolutions of the group conferences and in other appropriate cases. The WGW works as an expert group for the Russian Bird Conservation Union, with which several joint project have been implemented (e.g., “Breeding Waders in Eastern Europe – 2000”). Preparation of international “Action Plans” for the BirfLife International on conservation of the Sociable Lapwing and Black-winged Pratoncole is another significant example of the WGW cooperative activities with the RBCU. Members of the WGW participated in preparation of similar “Action Plans” on other rare species of waders, the Slender-billed Curlew and Great Snipe.
Data on distribution, population structure, demographic parameters, numbers and population trends (in particular of rare species), migratory links, areas of concentration, etc. important for conservation of waders are being collected and summarized in course of projects initiated by the WGW, on conferences and in volumes of published collected papers and annual issues of the “Information Materials of the WGW”. The WGW provided information for compiling a “shadow list” of Russian Ramsar wetlands and actively promoted official recognition of international status of wetlands important for conservation of waders.
Representatives of the WGW participate in activities and projects of international NGOs dealing with wader conservation, such as the International Wader Study Group (IWSG) and the Shorebird Working Group of East Asian-Australasian Flyway. A conference of the IWSG organized by the WGW in Odessa in 1992 resulted in adoption of the “Odessa Protocol” and publication of a volume entitled “Migration and international conservation of waders” consisting primarily of papers by researchers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (“International Wader Studies” series, Vol. 10).