Monitoring millions of waterbirds

 
Greenland white-fronted geese on their autumn staging areas in western Iceland © Chris WilsonLying on important migration routes, and as a major wintering area for wildfowl and waders, the UK has a long history of international collaboration in waterbird conservation.  Indeed, many of the basic techniques of waterbird research and conservation were pioneered in the UK. 
 
This work continues through JNCC’s long-term partnership with Wetlands International, which supports several aspects of the international waterbird surveillance and conservation. 
 
Under these auspices, the fourth edition of Waterbird Population Estimates has recently been published, a publication based on annual monitoring of millions of waterbirds.  The review summarises international estimates and trends of 878 waterbird species.  The new edition reveals a decrease in waterbird populations since the third edition (2002).  At global level, 44% of populations for which trend data are available are decreasing or have become extinct, 34% are stable, and 17% are increasing.  Asia is the continent where concern is greatest as 62% of populations there are now decreasing or have become extinct: only 10% show an increasing trend.  In Oceania, one in six species have already become extinct.
 
Similar conclusions are reached in Waterbirds around the world, a massive book derived from the Edinburgh Global Flyways Conference organised jointly with Wetlands International, and the UK and Dutch governments in April 2004.  The 940 page publication will be launched in The Hague, Netherlands, with a Ministerial call for concerted action to address the problems facing waterbirds.
 
The headline messages stressed the need to “Underpin future conservation decisions with high-quality scientific advice drawn from coordinated, and adequately funded, research and monitoring programmes notably the International Waterbird Census”, and to “Develop policy-relevant indicators of the status of the world’s wetlands, especially in the context of the 2010 target, using waterbird and other data generated from robust and sustainable monitoring schemes.”  To this end JNCC is working with Wetlands International and other stakeholders to develop a more sustainable, long-term funding regime for monitoring at international scales.
 
Within the UK, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust/JNCC Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP) monitors internationally important populations of swans and geese during the non-breeding season. An extensive network of skilled volunteers collects annual data on numbers, distribution and productivity.  GSMP then collates, analyses and publishes this information so that governments, conservation organisations and others have ready access to a broad range of information to help decision making.  GSMP publishes most of its reports online, which means we can update information rapidly, and there is also a quick reference guide to the status of goose and swan populations.
 
Some geese and swans occur in very large numbers in some areas and can cause damage to autumn-sown arable crops; GSMP data provides context about local populations that can help in managing birds in these problem areas.  Several species are quarry species and GSMP is important in helping detect declines in harvested populations – which can then be investigated to reveal underlying causes.  Climate change is affecting our bird populations and GSMP helps us understand distributional shifts that might be linked to this, for example, the current decline in European white-fronted Geese in Britain is in large part due to climate change.  GSMP also follows the fortunes of non-native geese and swans in the UK and will provide an early warning of possible problem (invasive) species.
 
For more information see:
 

 

 
 
 
Contact file:
David Stroud
Senior Ornithological Adviser
Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866810

Email:

 

Helen Baker
Nature Conservation Adviser
Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866816

Email: