Climate change forces waterbirds eastwards

06/04/2004

Global Flyways Conference 2004

A global review of the conservation, management and research of the world's major flyways

3-8 April 2004, Edinburgh, UK

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News Release

EMBARGOED UNTIL 6TH APRIL 2004

Climate change forces waterbirds eastwards

Migratory British waterbirds are increasingly moving eastwards due to the effects of climate change, scientists noted at an international conference in Edinburgh on Waterbirds Around the World. According to research presented at the event, increasingly mild winters mean that shorebirds such as the Redshank and Curlew are no longer flying in such large numbers to the estuaries of western Britain to find frost-free conditions, but instead shifting eastwards, closer to breeding areas in Scandinavia and arctic Russia.

The conference, which is organised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Wetlands International and the UK and Dutch governments, heard that climate change is emerging as a major new global threat to waterbirds, which are already under pressure from the effects of pollution, over-harvesting, and impacts on their wetland habitats. Predictions show that the arctic breeding areas of waterbirds will be subject to major changes in coming decades, and as sea levels rise, the extent of inter-tidal feeding areas will be greatly reduced. In addition, increased desertification in more arid parts of the world is already thought to be negatively affecting waterbirds breeding in those areas - especially in Central Asia.

SNH's Professor Colin Galbraith, Chairman of the Conference, said: "The consequences of a changing climate for waterbirds will be multiple and uncertain, and will add further to existing impacts such as the effects of wetland loss and degradation. There will be a need for planning by governments at landscape scales, to reduce or mitigate the impacts of climate change on waterbird habitats."

Ward Hagemeijer, Head of Wetland Species Conservation for Wetlands International, said: "Government's will need to consider how effective their national networks of protected areas are under changed climate conditions. In particular, there will be a need to ensure that critically important inter-tidal feeding areas, increasingly squeezed by rising sea-levels, are allowed to migrate inland."

Waterbirds Around the World, which includes over 450 scientists and government officials from about 90 Countries, aims to review progress in migratory waterbird conservation. The six-day event will act as an important forum to discuss the most practical ways forward to help 'manage' the effects of climate change on bird populations. This includes measures such as temporarily suspending shooting during extreme weather - which is increasingly likely to occur as the climate changes - to help reduce waterbird mortality.

The conference includes a session dedicated to reviewing the impacts of climate change on waterbirds, where latest evidence of threats were presented. This includes predictions of the effects of habitat changes on arctic-breeding geese, as well as implications of other climate-related impacts.

A photo and interview opportunity will be held on 6th April at the coach parking for Musselburgh race course at 10am, where participants will be taking an excursion to look at the area's gulls, waders and seaduck. Waterbirds Around the World is held between 3-8 April 2004 at the Edinburgh Conference Centre, Heriott Watt University, Riccarton Campus, Currie Edinburgh EH14 4AS. For more information look up www.wetlands.org or for interviews or photos of waterbirds
contact: Sarah Roe, National Press and PR officer, SNH Tel: 0131 446 2270 mobile: 07787 836010 or Saskia Henderikse at Wetlands International on Tel: +31 6 4007 4892

Notes to editors

* The British Trust for Ornithology will be presenting research on UK work about climate change and waders, as part of a number of presentations on the impacts of climate change around the world.
* The first European waterbird conference was held in 1963 in St Andrews, which together with the MAR conference in St Marie de la Mer in France in 1962 marked the beginnings of the modern era of international coordination of waterbird conservation and led to the development of the first modern international Convention on wetland conservation - the Ramsar Convention in 1971.
* Scottish Natural Heritage is the Scottish Executive's statutory advisor on the conservation, enhancement, enjoyment, understanding and sustainable use of the Scotland's natural heritage.
* Wetlands International is a leading global non-profit organisation dedicated solely to the crucial work of wetland conservation and sustainable management. Well-established networks of experts and close partnerships with key organisations provide Wetlands International with the essential tools for catalysing conservation activities worldwide. Our activities are based on sound science and have been carried out in over 120 countries, working through 19 offices. Wetlands International plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of knowledge on the status of global waterbird populations and works with governments and partner organisations across all major flyways to enhance the conservation and management of waterbirds.

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