From 15th-19th March 2015 I had the great opportunity to join the 2nd meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG2) to the Raptors MoU (Memorandum of Understanding on the conservation of birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia).
I had already learnt a lot about the Raptors MoU at the Saker Falcon Taskforce Meeting, at which I volunteered in 2013, but I had no concept of what exactly a TAG does…
In a nutshell, the function of the TAG to the Raptors MoU is to provide expert advice and devise recommendations on conservation actions that should/could be taken by Signatories and Range States of the Raptors MoU to help protect the migratory birds of prey. Pretty smart, if you ask me – with all good intentions that a country may have when signing the MoU, it is important to help them turn their good will into useful actions… Members of the TAG had been nominated from Signatories to the Raptors MoU, and at this TAG2 meeting 20 individuals came together, including regional representatives as well as specialist ornithologists.
The first TAG meeting (TAG1) had been held in Edinburgh in January 2014, where the newly elected members started drafting a work plan and timeline, and formed working groups that would focus on particular issues. The aim of TAG2 was to allow the working groups to further develop their proposed action plans and recommendations to address the protection of the migratory birds of prey.
A great opening to the meeting was presented by Nick Williams, the head of the coordinating unit of the Raptors MoU, who updated us on recent developments:
- 51 countries of the 131 range states have now signed the Raptors MoU, with recent signatories including Iran, Lebanon, Czech Republic, Syria and Switzerland.
- The Saker Falcon Task Force had produced a global action plan (GAP) that was adopted at the August 2014 COP11.
- Progress has been made in other projects supported by the CMS Raptors MoU, including:
- The Sooty Falcon International Single Species Action Plan
- The African Raptor Databank (ARDB) and its new online apps
- The Egyptian Vulture Flyaway Action Plan (Balkan Region)
The progress in all these projects is encouraging, but I am particularly amazed by what Nick Williams and his colleagues have achieved with regards to protecting the Saker Falcon. In order to address the plight of this endangered species across its migratory range, conservationists as well as the trappers who’s livelihoods depend on this bird, had to sit together and agree to work together towards a common goal. What a huge feat to accomplish! And the key to success of the project, as Nick says, is making a clear point that “sustainable use is part of the solution”. I believe that this is an important point that a lot of organisations that are active in conservation are missing – conservation efforts need to be inclusive of everyone, in order to be effective.
Over the next three days, the TAG2 meeting consisted of breakout sessions and group discussions, to allow the eight working groups to further develop the recommendations they had put together with regards to their allocated topics:
- Improvement of Protection
- Important Sites
- Power Grids & Renewables
- Illegal Killing, Trapping and Trade
- Awareness Raising
- Monitoring & Research
- Reporting & Support
Potential emerging issues that were also discussed included:
- increasing reports of air strikes (by planes, kite surfers, paragliders, drones);
- avian influenza outbreaks (H5N1, H5N8);
- increasing numbers of dead nestlings are being found, highlighting the need for some health indicators in raptors;
- importance of considering conservation efforts in post-conflict reconstruction.
Ultimately the means of implementing the proposed recommendations and processes for raising awareness were also addressed. Turning recommendations into action and reaching the general public with the relevant information is always difficult…
The finalized reports of the TAG2 working groups will now be put together and published on the TAG2 website, and a full report will be presented to the second meeting of the Raptors MoU Signatories in Norway in October 2015.
The meeting was very productive and it was great to see how enthusiastic all participants were – every single member brought their unique experiences and viewpoints to the table. I think particular credit also needs to be given to the chair, Professor Des Thompson (Principal Advisor on Biodiversity at Scottish Natural Heritage), who did a fabulous job at keeping everyone on topic and motivated throughout … with some good Scottish humour 🙂
The three days of hard work were well balanced by a fantastic day trip that was put on by the Raptors MoU secretariat, where Nick Williams showed us some of the habitats used by raptors in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. If you’re interested in wildlife and birdwatching, grab some binoculars and a good camera and check out these sites:
- Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. This reserve is run by EAD, who have made use of treated waste water to create a lush environment that has become a habitat for many different animals, including flamingos, Marsh Harriers and even a Greater Spotted Eagle.
- Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain. There is a parking lot at the top with views over Al Ain, or you can stop at the Mercure Grand Hotel and enjoy some food and drinks, while looking out for Kestrels and the impressive Egyptian Vultures!
- Zakher Lake, Al Ain. This artificial lake formed by waste water, which is collected here. The area has become a habitat for numerous migratory birds, and we saw a number of Marsh Harriers here.
All in all, the meeting was very interesting and it was a fantastic opportunity for me to gain a better understanding of how CMS and the Raptors MoU secretariat work. I would like to than Nick Williams and Jenny Renell for giving me the opportunity to volunteer at this meeting, and all other TAG2 participants who took so much time to share information on their research projects with me.
If you’d like to learn more about the conservation efforts of the Raptors MoU secretariat, check out their website. For a great opportunity to get involved in the conservation of migratory birds, check out the World Migratory Bird Day call to action! This takes place on 9-10 May 2015 and this year’s topic is “Energy – Make it Bird Friendly”.