BirdLife International publishes essential reference work for Europe

BirdLife International publishes essential reference work for Europe

29 May 2000

birdlife.gif (3697 bytes)BirdLife International has published a vital reference work that will have significant value for everyone concerned with the implementation of the Ramsar Convention. Important Bird Areas in Europe: Priority Sites for Conservation, edited by Melanie F. Heath and Michael I. Evans with others, is a 1600-page 2-volume compendium of country analyses and individual site descriptions of more than 3,600 sites that meet BirdLife's criteria for IBAs, which largely overlap with the Ramsar Convention's Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance, especially Criteria 6, and with the EC Birds Directive's guidance for Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

iba-book1.jpg (36176 bytes)For every listed site, there is a site description which covers habitat types and land uses, bird populations, protection status - including Ramsar coverage - and conservation issues and threats. The data was compiled using rigorous methodologies by staff and volunteer networks of the BirdLife International Partnership in each of the countries. All data from the 1989 first edition has been completely updated and 1,200 new sites have been added.

The Strategic Framework and guidelines for the future development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance was developed and adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention at the 7th COP in 1999 and is intended to achieve the so-called "Vision for the List" -- "To develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the ecological and hydrological functions they perform". The systematic and strategic approach to selecting and designating new Ramsar sites in furtherance of this vision, to which the Contracting Parties have chosen to commit themselves, requires, more than anything else (besides the political will), solid scientific data and inventories of wetlands within their territories that qualify under the Ramsar Criteria.

For the European region, this new publication will go very far towards meeting that need. As is stated in the Summary to volume I, "Many IBAs are wetlands of international importance yet only 30% of these have been designated under the Ramsar Convention. Given the compatibility of IBA criteria with Ramsar criteria, it is possible to estimate that a further 1,000 IBAs in Europe should be considered for designation as Ramsar sites because of the internationally important numbers of waterbirds that they hold."

Important Bird Areas in Europe is available for sale from the Natural History Book Service (NHBS), 2-3 Wills Road, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5XN, UK (fax +44 (0) 1803 865280, e-mail , web .

From some of the Forewords:

ONE of the greatest strengths of the Birdlife International Partnership is its ability to focus on priorities for species, sites, habitats and people. There is no better example of putting this focus into practice than BirdLife's Important Bird Area (IBA) programme, now well on its way to identifying and documenting over 20,000 IBAs worldwide.

The beauty of the IBA programme is its simplicity. It identifies important sites for the conservation of the world's birds by applying locally a set of objective criteria to an internationally agreed global standard. This provides the basis for local, national, regional and global action and advocacy. It also generates a conservation agenda from which local and national institutions can strengthen their own capacity and be linked, through IBA programmes across the world, to like-minded institutions.

When the first pan-European inventory of IBAs was launched ten years ago, the designation Important Bird Areas was unknown. Now, IBAs are recognised worldwide and they are rapidly becoming a common and increasingly valuable currency of site conservation. In some places IBAs now have legal status. Both the World Bank and the Global Environment Eacility recognise IBAs in their own strategies and action plans, while the European Union has used them as a basis for legal judgements. Communities adjacent to IBAs and dependent on them for their own livelihoods value these sites and play a key role in their conservation. I can think of few concepts in conservation and sustainable development that now have such widespread support and ownership. IBAs unite local people in Burkina Easo, the Philippines, Hungary, Jordan, New York State, Kenya, Spain, Palestine, Panama and many more. They are recognised by inter-governmental bodies and international treaties, such as the Biodiversity and Ramsar Conventions.

This remarkable volume provides detailed information on 3,619 IBAs spread across every country in Europe. It is a unique and powerful source of information that profoundly improves our ability to enable people to conserve birds, biodiversity and the wider environment throughout the region.

Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, Honorary President of BirdLife International

SINCE its adoption in 1979 the Wild Birds Directive has provided a strong legal basis for the protection of habitats of wild bird species throughout the European Union, especially through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The objective is to create a coherent network of protected areas which meets the protection requirements of endangered and migratory bird species and to preserve our common heritage.

The identification and delimitation of sites under this directive is exclusively a scientific exercise. With this in mind, ornithological criteria were elaborated as far back as 1981 when the first inventory of important bird areas of the then European Community was prepared. During the 1980s the European Commission set up a working group, which led to the further identification of Community-wide criteria for the selection of SPAs. This resulted in the preparation of the 1989 inventory of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Europe by the forerunner to BirdLife International, the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP), with contributions by experts from the Member States.

The 1989 IBA review has proven to be a key scientific reference for the selection of sites to be protected under the Birds Directive. The European Union Court of Justice has concluded that it represents a list of sites of great conservation importance for the conservation of wild birds.

However, more than 10 years have passed since its publication and there have been considerable advances in knowledge on the numbers and distribution of wild birds. The publication of a new inventory of Important Bird Areas is therefore most welcome. I would like to congratulate BirdLife International for the clarity and quality of this work. I am convinced that it will be a standard reference for many years to come.

As most EU Member States have still to actively complete their networks of SPAs it should be a key tool in helping them to fulfil this key requirement of the Birds Directive. Given that it covers all European countries it will also be a valuable reference for those applicants to the European Union as they prepare to take on the nature conservation obligations of membership.

Margot Wallström, European Commissioner for the Environment

IT is an honour for me to greet the dear Reader on behalf of the comparatively large family of conservationists in our small country, Hungary.

Biogeographically, Hungary ranks among the richest countries in Europe. Currently, approximately 42,000 animal and 3,000 plant species are known from Hungary, but it is an alarming fact that more than half (62%) of the natural vegetation associations are threatened to some degree and need protection. It was a major step forward in the 1980s and 1990s when it was recognised that it is hopeless to try to protect species without the protection of their habitats. In Hungary, 855 animal and 515 plant species are protected by law. Among them, birds enjoy a particularly favourable status with 278 protected species.

The majority of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are already protected in Hungary, but in a country that has long been inhabited, urbanised and agriculturally cultivated, isolated protected areas are in a precarious situation and may easily be doomed without the implementation of special protection measures. The total area of Ramsar sites, constituting a major part of IBAs, has increased by 30% during the 1990s and today 19 sites with a total area of 149,000 ha are protected under the Ramsar Convention. The Hungarian BirdLife Partner, the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society, played a key role in the designation of IBAs in Hungary and has established excellent relations with the Hungarian Authority for Nature Conservation, Ministry of the Environment. It is hoped that the future of Hungarian IBAs will be ensured, not only by the declaration of protected status, but also by new measures to support nature-friendly farming.

Many thanks to BirdLife International for their excellent, inspirational and far-reaching programmes, and for creating this remarkable manual. It is an honour that the 106-year-old Hungarian Ornithological Institute and the Hungarian Authority for Nature Conservation could, even if modestly, contribute to this work.

Dr János Tardy PhD, Deputy Secretary of State, Head of the Authority for Nature Conservation, Hungary

SITE-BASED management is a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, and fundamental to this is readily available knowledge of the location and importance of such sites. BirdLife International's Important Bird Areas programme draws together a wealth of this vital information. The publication in 1989 by ICBP (BirdLife's forerunner) and the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau (forerunner of Wetlands International) of Important Bird Areas in Europe was a milestone in providing accessible information on Europe's many and varied places vital for birds. Many of these areas are wetlands. The IBA programme has greatly contributed to identifying the whole network of key sites which are vital for the continued survival of migratory waterbirds, and has provided the foundation for developing an effective bird conservation strategy for Europe.

Wetlands International is pleased to have contributed its knowledge and information on waterbirds to this impressively expanded and updated edition of Important Bird Areas in Europe, both through our volunteer census networks in individual countries and from our population- and flyway-scale information analyses for waterbirds. The new IBA Europe book provides an essential tool for the 21st century in realising the sustainable conservation of waterbirds in Europe and its delivery through the mechanisms of intergovernmental conventions and agreements, notably the Ramsar Convention and the Bonn Convention's African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement, and in the designation of Special Protection Areas under the EC Birds Directive.

We warmly congratulate BirdLife International on bringing to fruition the huge task of drawing together this wealth of essential information needed for implementing effective bird conservation in Europe. We look forward to continuing to work closely with BirdLife International in progressing this implementation, and in supporting the continuing IBA programme worldwide with our waterbird knowledge and information.

Robin Schaap, International Director, Wetlands International