Wadden Sea still weak link in international Flyway

A new analysis of the large scale bird count in 33 countries along the East Atlantic Flyway indicates that a large number of bird species using the Wadden Sea are not doing well. Many breeding bird species are still in decline, despite conservation measures and the UNESCO World Heritage status of the area. Several migrating and wintering species, like Red Knot, Northern Pintail and Sanderling are doing slightly better.


Large scale bird count of the East Atlantic Flyway

For the second time waterbirds using the East-Atlantic Flyway are counted on a large scale, this so called ‘total count’ took place in January 2017. 11 European and 22 African countries joined forces and in total 1.500 people (mostly volunteers) contributed. The East Atlantic Flyway assessment 2017 report indicates that trends of waterbirds using the East Atlantic Flyway in general are quite well. Two third out of 95 counted populations show an increase or stable population trend. However, one particular group of birds stand out in a negative way. Populations using intertidal mudflats, depending on benthic food and breeding in the arctic are doing worse than other populations. Especially for wader populations breeding in the Siberian Arctic trends are unfavorable, climate change is considered to be a main cause.


Situation for breeding birds in the Wadden Sea worse than on Flyway level

From the first large scale birdcount at flyway level in 2014 it came forward that the Wadden Sea was a weak link for both migrating and breeding birds. Indicating that conditions for birds in the Wadden Sea were worse compared to other areas along the Flyway. This resulted among others in the drafting of a framework with proposed measures to improve the conditions for these birds. New data from the East Atlantic Flyway assessment 2017 report demonstrates that trends for birds breeding in the Wadden Sea have not improved yet. On average, local trends in the Wadden Sea are worse compared to those at Flyway level. Herewith the Wadden Sea remains a weak link for breeding birds along the East Atlantic Flyway and conservation measures to reverse this trend are justified.


Situation of migrating and wintering birds improved

36 out of the 95 studied populations are birds migrating through or wintering in the Wadden Sea. Fortunately the majority of these 36 populations using the Wadden Sea during their bi annual migration or for wintering are doing better compared to 2014. However, 8 populations are doing worse than populations elsewhere along the East Atlantic Flyway, amongst others Wigeon and Dunlin.


New: monitoring of environmental information

To formulate good policy for the conservation of birds along the Flyway it is not sufficient to know where the birds are and how they are doing, but we also need to know what happens in their habitats. During the last ‘total count’ of 2017 a start has been made with collecting data about environmental information and the presence of human induced pressures in 70 important bird sites in Europe and Africa. The description of these environmental conditions and pressures largely follows a system developed by BirdLife International for their Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) programme. From this data collection it was found that farming (at the edges of the sites) and fishing are the two most widely recorded uses of coastal wetlands. Whilst many sites are also used for recreation and urbanization is increasing. On a global scale pressures related to climate change are of major influence, in particular sea level rise and the warming in boreal and arctic latitudes.


Strong international network

The Flyway assessment would not be possible without strong international collaborations and a good network. Since 2012 the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative (WSFI) is implementing the request of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to strengthen cooperation with other countries for the conservation of migratory birds, especially along the East Atlantic Flyway. A strong network from international to local partners is collaborating in monitoring, capacity buidling and research mainly funded by the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation.


Monitorings stays necessary

The intensified collaboration along the East Atlantic Flyway started with the annual monitoring of a selection of sites along the African Atlantic coast, complemented with an expanded triennial ‘total count’ targeting all sites. By carrying out these total counts we gain insight in the way bird populations are developing along the entire East Atlantic Flyway and we can compare trends of bird populations in the Wadden Sea relative to bird populations elsewhere along the Flyway. For an adequate conservation of migrating birds along the entire route of the Flyway it is essential to include monitoring of environmental conditions in their habitat as well. The results of both bird and environmental monitoring are an essential source of information for both policymakers and site-managers.

The total count of 2017 is coordinated by Sovon, Wetlands International and BirdLife International, commissioned by Programme towards a Rich Wadden Sea (PRW). This monitoring is part of The Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative (WSFI) and made possible by the Dutch Ministry for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Life_IP Flyway, Vogelbescherming Nederland, The World Wide Fund (WWF), Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS), MAVA foundation, Nationalpark Vadehavet, Niedersachsen and Sleswig Holstein.