[Continuing our reports from Bulgaria, Pamela Braham tells us about the work that happens behind the scenes to keep fieldworkers on the ground and birds in the air...]
Two things that don't usually happen to me frequently are flying (I like my feet firmly on the ground) and travelling abroad for work - however, this is exactly how my week started when I set off to Sofia with my colleague Adrian Oates last Monday! Much as I am disinclined to look out the window when about to land, I simply couldn't take my eyes off the breathtaking view as we approached the runway of Sofia airport. The spectacular view of the snow-capped Mt. Vitosha, the beauty of the glistening Lake Iskar in the distance and the surrounding colourful patchwork of countryside was amazing and kept my eyes wide open after a 4am start. I was also pleased to note that we had left the British rain behind and the sun shone brightly!
After being met by Dora (our very own LIFE+ Project Officer) and Maria (one of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds' (BSPB) four EU Life+ Financial Administrators), we drove straight to BSPB's Headquarters located in a residential area on the outskirts of the city, sharing a block of flats with local people, and with little gardens and playgrounds at the back of the office. HQ and the nearby Life+ office both have a lot of character and we received a very warm welcome when we arrived.
BSPB coordinates four EU LIFE+ projects in which the RSPB is a partner, with various other organisations including the BirdLife Partners from Hungary and Greece. The successful grant awards are a testament to BSPB's determination and energy for seizing grant opportunities. All projects when added together carry an amazing total grant value of approximately 9 million Euros.
The oldest started in January 2009, the 'Conservation of imperial eagle and saker falcon in key Natura 2000 sites in Bulgaria', to reduce the impact of direct persecution and other threats on these species and to prevent further loss of nest sites and enhance their habitats. The second project started in January the following year, 'Ensuring conservation of priority bird species and coastal habitat at the Bourgas Natura 2000 wetland sites', with the intention of strengthening the strategic planning framework to secure long-term conservation of the Natura 2000 priority bird species (pygmy cormorant, ferruginous duck, white-headed duck, Dalmatian pelican and great bittern) and sustainable management of their habitats.
The latest two projects 'Conservation of the wintering population of the Globally Threatened red-breasted goose in Bulgaria' and 'Urgent measures to secure survival of the Egyptian vulture in Bulgaria and Greece' started in Sept 2010 and October 2011 respectively. The project titles speak for themselves, but all involve a tremendous amount of committment, passion, a multitude of actions on behalf of all those involved ,and a high level of coordination by BSPB to ensure everything complies with the EU Common Provisions, the "rule book" for LIFE+ projects.
A cheeky looking red-breasted goose
And so to the reason that Adrian and I are here. We work in International's finance section and have been invited by BSPB to gain an insight into and review their overall organisation finance procedures and practices as well as undertake a proactive audit of the financial administration and records on all four LIFE+ projects. The hope is to share best practice, look for consistency of methodologies of financial practice across the projects, and emulate some of the questions an EU auditor may ask to test their record keeping systems.
Yesterday, we reviewed the Imperial eagle/Saker falcon project and the Egyptian Vulture project - among the various files and paperwork, it was a delight and inspiration to work with our enthusiastic, highly efficient and thorough BSPB colleagues. At the end of the day, we were shown video footage of Egyptian vultures on a nest and had a quick glimpse of an egg. The Project Manager explained that he receives photo snapshots of the area in case of disturbance, so as to monitor potential poachers, sent directly to his mobile - incredible technology!
Well more at the end of the week, as there's only so much you can say to make Finance sound interesting!
[Dora Querido is a great new addition to our International team and she, along with Pamela Braham and Adrian Oates (financial wizards), will be reporting back from Bulgaria over the next couple of weeks...so over to Dora...]
As part of my new role as Life+ Project officer at the RSPB I’m coordinating our input and support for five major LIFE+ projects funded by the European Union (EU). Four of these are working in Bulgaria, run by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), the Birdlife International partner.
In order to meet and get to know all the project teams I will be staying 4 weeks in the country. As it is my first time in Bulgaria (and eastern Europe!) I was looking forward to some “culture shock” - you know, the cultural differences that all countries have - but I wasn’t expecting it so soon! Being Portuguese I’m used to the Euro and often think that any EU member will have Euros with Britain being the exception - it turns out that the Bulgarians aren’t in the Eurozone either, but they use the Leva. Lesson number 1 learnt.
A day with Officer Shorrock
This would be my first full day in Sofia. I was so excited! We started with a Media workshop where one of the RSPB’s wildlife crime investigators, Guy Shorrock (or should I say Officer Shorrock?) was giving a presentation. As he started his career as a policeman, Guy is well placed to talk about this area of work. Having introduced the RSPB’s role, Guy explained how wildlife crime stories can be appealing to the media and how the media can help prevent these crimes happening in the first place. I learn that unlike in the UK, strangely Bulgarian police can’t use certain photos, emails or texts as evidence in order to take a case to court. Although the Bulgarian police have a special team dedicated to environmental crimes, they rarely receive reports of suspicious or criminal activities. Even poisoned birds aren’t always reported as locals do not see it as criminal offence.
Later, “Officer” Shorrock gave a very cheerful talk to students in an austere amphitheatre of the Biology Department of the University of Sofia. The most successful of Guy’s tales is how on his last visit to Bulgaria he managed to make the front page of 2 Bulgarian newspapers after seizing an illegal egg collection and other items from an Englishman living in Bulgaria. In 20 years working in UK, Guy has never accomplished such a rapid achievement! And guess what? Later in the evening Guy made the Bulgarian evening news!!
Learning about wildlife crime at the University of Sofia (Dora Querido)
My congratulations go to the communication team of Save the Raptor project for organising such a successful event. You can read more about this event here.
The northern bald ibis, successfully brought back from the brink of extinction in Morocco, is barely surviving in the Middle East where only a handful of birds now live. See previous blogs on their migration and some pictures of this lovable misfit.
However, despite the current political situation in Syria, there has been some unexpected excellent news – the tiny colony of 3 adults, of which 1 pair is incubating, was joined by an un-tagged and un-ringed adult on the 11th of April. Fingers are now crossed that this new arrival is a male and that he will take a fancy to the single female!
You can keep up-to-date on progress at http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/tracking/northernbaldibis/