Ananya Mukherjee, Vulture Safe Zone Co-ordinator, writes:
Amidst the chaos and the pandemonium, surrounding densely populated landscapes comes the extraordinary tale of a motley group of people fighting to resurrect an almost dying species, Asia’s Gyps vulture populations in India.
It has been four years since BNHS in partnership with the RSPB has been working towards creating a safe home for the vultures. But the challenges remain phenomenal. Several areas have been identified as vulture safe based on existing populations and Uttar Pradesh (UP) remains critically important because it borders Nepal, which is also a significant area for the vultures.
This year has seen major progress in vulture conservation work in UP vulture safe zone. Following more than a year’s lobbying with various stakeholders (viz. the druggists and chemists network) including government officials, the BNHS team secured the support of the All India Association of Chemists and Druggists. The Association secured a major donation of meloxicam (3000 vials) which was distributed to the vets and paravets of the region.
This year’s International Vulture Awareness Day in UP has specifically focused on the free distribution of meloxicam to paravets and vets as a means of engaging them in the vulture conservation work. Incidentally, this is the first such event held in UP VSZ ever since BNHS started its work in the region.
Endorsing the vulture conservation work has been the local and state government in UP. This is also another major milestone and a great indicator of successful lobbying work of BNHS with the Animal husbandry department, the State Food & Drug Association and the veterinary sector. The event coincided with the multi-dose vial ban and not only gave a strong impetus to BNHS’s continued work in the region but also established BNHS’s stronghold in its endeavor to create a vulture safe zone.
Even though it is not the first time that advocacy meetings have been attended and endorsed by local and state government it was relevant because this was the first time that senior government officers actively sponsored and engaged with BNHS in distributing free meloxicam to the paravets and untrained vets.
This support will be crucial in the context of trans-boundary vulture work especially because of future release plans in Nepal.
Our special thanks to SOS who had funded this work to save the vultures from extinction.
Visit the Amazing Journeys website to find out what is happening this year with our nine tagged sociable lapwings - three migration routes, one bird still on the breeding grounds, and another dithering about in southern Kazakhstan!
All this, and our Turkmenistan fieldwork starts this week...
(Photo Anna Ten, UzSPB)
Alan Johnson, our Conservation Manager for the South East reports on another year of good news from the North Kent Marshes; breeding waders numbers have tripled over the last 5 years on RSPB reserves!
Spring on the North Kent marshes is a magical place as wading birds pair up for the breeding season – their displays and calls bring the landscape to life. We count the numbers of breeding pairs as a basic stock take of how our efforts are working to give these special birds a home. Since 2010, lapwing numbers have increased from 58 pairs to 213 pairs and redshank have increased from 97 pairs to 259 pairs.
This is a big deal as three quarters of all the breeding waders in the South East of England breed in North Kent. We’re bucking the trend of long-term decline (80% lapwing decline in England & Wales since 1960).
There are a few reasons for this turnaround in fortunes.
In the last ten years we have restored 357 ha of wet grassland habitat at Shorne Marshes, Higham Marshes and Seasalter Levels by changing the way we graze the grassland and putting in kit that allows as better control of water levels. This allows us to produce shorter grass and shallow surface flooding that waders like for nesting and feeding. We have also created 168 ha of brand-new habitat at Great Bells Farm (in partnership with the Environment Agency) and at Harty Marshes. So we have created lots of new space for waders and all the other inhabitants of coastal grazing marshes, such as yellow wagtails, ducks, water voles and damselflies.
Another big factor that has contributed to this success is chick productivity. Scientists have worked out that lapwings need to successfully fledge between 0.6 and 0.8 chicks per pair in order to maintain a stable population. This means we need to see at least 6 young for every ten pairs, so we need to ensure that our lapwing pairs raise more than this if we want the population to increase.
Lapwings are disappearing from the wider countryside and are increasingly found in small concentrations, often on nature reserves or areas where there needs are met. This, along with other factors, makes these ground-nesting birds vulnerable to predation of eggs and chicks.
Studies across the UK, suggests that predation by nocturnal mammals is a big factor in low wader productivity and we have evidence from nest cameras that foxes are a significant predator on our reserves in North Kent. Over the last few years we have installed electric fencing around key areas for waders in order to exclude ground predators. These measures, backed up by fox control where necessary, has resulted in high levels of chick productivity for the last three years. In 2015 we achieved overall lapwing productivity of 1.3 fledged chicks/pair in North Kent (including a whopping 1.8 at Higham Marsh), which is way above our target and, we hope, should lead to another population increase next year.
We now have historically very high densities of waders on our reserves and we are shifting our focus to the gaps in-between. North Kent is within the Greater Thames Futurescape; an area that we have decided to put our collective effort into creating a landscape-scale wildlife paradise. We are working with Natural England and local farmers to create new space for wetland creatures, so hopefully our burgeoning population of pee-witting and tooting marshland birds will have somewhere to go and the population can expand.
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