We are almost ending this very strange year 2020, a year that has asked so much for everyone and for us nature lovers too. It is impossible to ignore all of the bad news we had, but we should definitely enjoy the good news too.
Today, together with the European Bird Census Council, we are launching the second edition of the European Breeding Birds Atlas, probably a citizen science project that has ever been carried out on the planet. The Atlas is a milestone for nature conservation in Europe and has comprised our BirdLife family for more than 5 years.
To exaggerate I do not believe that. Can you name another voluntary project that has been carried out over 5 years and covers almost every single area from Cadiz to Finland, from Georgia to Ireland? Do you know of any other publication based on the work of more than 120,000 volunteers?
Useful? Incredible. Why? Because it is based on and uses something that we all, whether we are experts or school kids, can easily understand … MAPS. The European breeding bird atlas does not contain complicated formulas or diagrams. You turn the page and get an excellent illustration, short text indicating changes in the bird’s distribution, and a nice card. No more and no less. You don’t need anything else because when the science is solid it can be easily explained.
The European breeding bird atlas is also an asset for civil society. It was coordinated by the European Bird Census Council and relied on the support of many other public and private institutions. The role of the BirdLife family was just amazing. For more than 5 years, BLI partners have been collecting data, exchanging national atlas data, training colleagues and analyzing results. I remember a trip to Ukraine in 2015. The aim was to support the work of the BLI partner USPB, but also to train other volunteers and government officials to conduct the surveys. 5 years later, the Ukrainian squares are painted blue (which means that they are of good quality). Despite constraints, despite reduced budgets, bird lovers across the continent have provided excellent scientific work that will directly impact our next conservation and political priorities.
If we read all the species maps in the book from a regional perspective, this atlas sends us some very powerful messages:
It confirms that arable land specieslike the Ortolan bunting or the great bustard, suffer from agricultural intensification. Their range has been reduced as their most important habitats and foods are disappearing.
That tells us Land abandonment has favored the regrowth of forest plant species, This also meant improved habitats for species like the black woodpecker.
It proves that Climate change is happening right before our very eyes. We observed a mean shift to the north of 28 km. Some species have shifted more than others, but can you imagine the implications of that shift, especially for far-flung migrants who are reaching their limits in their search for food and shelter?
That tells us Alien and alien species continue to spread. The illegal or poorly regulated trade has increased the range of these species, with direct and, in many cases, negative effects on our native species.
Conservation works. Whenever we have been able to protect important habitats such as wetlands, we have seen an increased distribution of waterfowl. Similarly, the species listed as Annex I of the EU Birds Directive or protected under the Bern Convention have done better. This is incredibly important because as species improve, so do the services they provide (plague control, seed planting, carcass removal …). In other words, when we invest in nature, nature pays us back in spades.
It shows government officials, as well as potential donors and investors, the key regions in urgent need of action. Choose your favorite species and you will see where and why their distribution has changed. Thanks to this book, customizing specific conservation projects, considering the presence of infrastructure and managing sustainable investments can now be done more effectively and smarter.
Christmas is just around the corner and I can’t think of a better gift to ask and give. This work has been done by citizens and for citizens, and although COVID means we can’t start it in an auditorium with excited media, bird watchers, scientists and nature lovers, I know it will soon fill our shelves and reading rooms because of it is just fantastic.
Find out more about the European Breeding Birds Atlas and how to order your copy