BirdLife Europe e-news, Vol III, Issue 4, April 2016
In this issue

Protecting Eurasia

Brecht Verhelst
Caucasus Development Officer, BirdLife Europe

When we think about biodiversity to the east of Europe – the former Soviet Union and the Balkans – what comes to mind? The endless forests of Siberia, Saiga Antelope roaming the Kazakh steppes and flocks of geese from Russia wintering in Europe? Or the dried-up Aral Lake and rusting nuclear installations? The combination of a huge natural heritage with a complete economic transformation of society has created unique challenges and opportunities for conservation in Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of the Balkans, the focus of our newsletter this month.

Why focus on this region? Because the ‘Brussels bubble’ can sometimes leave us blind to the beauty of nature outside the EU. Because despite the famous mismanagement of natural resources, especially in the Soviet era, there is a lot left to conserve east of Europe.

Large parts of the East still look like Western Europe centuries ago: untamed rivers, vast fen mires and primeval forests abound. Russian populations of almost any bird species dwarf their EU counterparts. Along the Black and Caspian seas, flyways represent over 60% of all migration of birds of prey between Eurasia and Africa. The Caucasian and Central Asian mountains ranges are biodiversity hotspots. The zapovedniks, scientific reserves which date back to Soviet times, still protect large swathes of virtually untouched nature.

That does not mean the region provides an absolute safe haven for nature. Corruption is widespread and leads to massive illegal exploitation of natural resources. Governments are unable to allocate sufficient resources to the management of protected
areas. Public awareness of nature is limited, and the ecological footprint of the population is large.

But there is reason for optimism, and the key to success lies with civil society organizations, and in particular with the BirdLife Partners in the region. Support from their West European counterparts has played a key role in developing many of these into successful conservation actors. They have helped design the IBA network in the region, leading to the creation of several large protected areas; and they have implemented conservation plans for many of the region’s threatened birds and mammals like the Sociable Lapwing and Saiga Antelope, in some cases reversing widespread declines.

The problem is capacity. The former Soviet Union does not have the European tradition of membership-based NGOs. As a result, management and government expertise is scarce. Most organizations depend heavily on individual projects for funding, which is irregular.

The RSPB’s partner-to-partner support and BirdLife’s Caucasus Initiative have stepped into this gap. Through core financial support and technical assistance, these programmes help build strong national NGOs. This has led to more, better, sustainable conservation.

We simply cannot ignore the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucasus if we want to protect nature in Europe. We have Partners with expertise on the ground, and they have proven successes under their belts. With our support they can create new opportunities for conservation.  We should not be afraid to invest in the eastern countries.
News from Central Asia, the Caucasus and Balkans
How an infection almost made the Critically Endangered saiga extinct. By Danara Zharbolova
Ulcinj Salina's salt pans could be saved by the very birds it protects. By Jovana Janusevic
Preserving that favoured flyway path of millions of migratory birds: Batumi. By Brecht Verhelst
How Georgia and Azerbaijan are saving the Imperial Eagle. By Guille Mayor and Elchin Sultanov
Finnish team wins third 'Champions of the Flyway' race by spotting 174 species. By Sanya Khetani-Shah
How to save an almost-impossible-to-track species? BirdLife on the Balkan Lynx trail. By Ksenija Putilin
New Sociable Lapwing habitats discovered in Uzbekistan. By Stephanie Ward
Using ecotourism to save one of Armenia's mos biologically diverse regions. By Samvel Grigoryan
15 April, 2016: The call for submissions for the 3rd "Good Practice of the Year" award is now open. The Renewables Grid Initiative invites European and non European grid operators, project developers, NGOs and public authorities engaged in grid projects to submit their most exciting and innovative good practices for the competition. 

23-25 April, 2016: 'Bird Congress', University of Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro in Vila Real, Portugal. The event aims to bring together ornithologists and students and promote the exchange of ideas and knowledge. 

11-13 May, 2016: The European Association for Zoos and Aquaria Conservation Forum, BioParc Fuengirola, Spain. The forum is now accepting abstracts for oral presentations, workshops, round table topics, posters, short movies and documentaries.

23 May, 2016: The 2016 Natura 2000 Awards ceremony, Brussels. Register here to attend and click here to vote for the most deserving project.

5-10 September, 2016: 20th International Conference of the European Bird Census Council 'Birds in a changing world', University of Halle (Saale), Germany. The deadline for submitting an abstract for talks, speed talks and posters is 30 March, 2016.

1-10 September, 2016: IUCN World Conservation Congress, Hawaii, USA. The Congress is now accepting submissions for hosting a workshop, Knowledge Café session or training course at the Congress.

Volunteer Communications Officer: BirdLife International seeks a volunteer Communications Officer to help communicate these important aspects of BirdLife’s work to audiences internationally, through its website, social media and printed publications.
Closing date: 3 May 2016.
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