Flying high

This April, something extraordinary happened in the world of bird conservation. Over four days in Abu Dhabi, scientists, policymakers, businesses, NGOs and donors from 100 organisations and 70 different countries came together in the world’s first-ever global Flyways Summit.

Convened by BirdLife International, the Summit sought to identify creative solutions to threats posed to migratory birds by energy infrastructure, wetland development, poisoning and illegal hunting.

Transcending boundaries and connecting people, countries and ecosystems, migratory birds are critical indicators for the state of nature. And the signs aren’t good. A fifth of all birds are migratory, and today nearly 40% of these are in decline, and one in eight is threatened with global extinction.

Conserving migratory birds means safeguarding habitat and addressing complex and interrelated threats. Among other things, the Flyways Summit final declaration calls for migratory bird conservation to be prioritised by the energy sector, zero tolerance of illegal killing and trade in wild birds from all governments, and special attention for flagship species such as bustards and the Saker falcon.

Overall, the declaration embodies the kind of global cooperation needed to achieve wider global sustainability goals and is testament to BirdLife’s forward-thinking approach and central place in modern conservation.

Bijagos (c) ORCA Production

United we stand

BirdLife brings together a global partnership of autonomous organisations in 119 countries in an integrated and common endeavour. Success is born not simply from shared priorities and a clear strategy but through a deeply local approach to conservation.

No surprise then that BirdLife plays a central role in the delivery of many parts of our strategy as a leading or contributing partner in several MAVA-funded action plans. In the Mediterranean, these cover coastal wetlands, fisheries and biodiversity, and migratory birds and vultures. And in West Africa, coastal wetlands and waterbirds, seabirds, oil and gas and biodiversity and bycatch reduction.

We work with and invest in local organisations that can become conservation leaders. It may be difficult and expensive but in the long run it’s sustainable. It means we have a unique global network that is locally anchored. And it makes a big difference if in the middle of a coup d’état in Madagascar or a war in Sierra Leone, you don’t need to pull staff out. We still have an active partner in Syria. Patricia Zurita, Chief Executive, BirdLife International

Tackling illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean

Every year, three billion birds make arduous journeys migrating thousands of miles between Eurasia and Africa. As if crossing the Mediterranean Sea and surviving sandstorms in the Sahara Desert were not hazardous enough, they also face persecution. Across the Mediterranean, illegal hunting and killing makes every migration a massacre.

In recent decades, automatic weapons, mist nets and limesticks have turned some cultural celebrations into illegal and unsustainable slaughter worth millions, leading to severe declines in many migrant bird populations. In Cyprus alone, over two and a half million birds are killed each year.

A decade ago, BirdLife Malta were at the vanguard of the fight. Despite facing arson attacks and vandalism, through advocacy, surveillance and public engagement, they managed to reduce poaching and shorten the legal Spring bird-hunting season from two months in 2006 to just two weeks in 2012.

Malta and Cyprus are just two examples of a worrying trend that demands pan-Mediterranean action. Fortunately, BirdLife’s dynamic network in the Mediterranean is uniquely positioned to deliver. Through regional projects supported by MAVA, more than 20 NGOs from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East now work closely together to influence public opinion, strengthen policy and law enforcement, and protect key sites and habitats.

Notable successes so far include a two-year hunting ban on Sasko Lake in Montenegro; the first-ever national plan on illegal trapping in Cyprus; a Maltese referendum on the abolition of spring hunting; a peace treaty with birds proclaimed by the President of Lebanon, and engagement with the electricity, gas and wind energy sectors in Macedonia.

Through national and regional collaboration, BirdLife have been able to make illegal hunting of migratory birds an international conservation priority. Their approach in the Mediterranean has become a leading example for other regions like the Arabian Peninsula and is being integrated into the Convention on Migratory Species Convention workplan through a dedicated task force. Paule Gros, Director, Mediterranean Basin Programme, MAVA Foundation

Bycatch and good relations

Globally, incidental bycatch in commercial and artisanal fisheries is the most serious threat facing sea turtles and seabirds.

Having had significant success in reducing albatross bycatch in many other fisheries, BirdLife are now developing similar approaches to address turtle and seabird bycatch in West Africa and the Mediterranean. In developing and promoting less harmful fishing gears, techniques and regulations, close collaboration with the sector and building trust and rapport with fishers is key.

For many years, we’ve been working closely with fishermen, building relationships on their terms, and showing them that a bird on a hook means one less fish to sell. Fishermen have to be happy with new gear and using it before we will even think about recommending it to policymakers. Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation for Europe & Central Asia, BirdLife International

A ‘blue economy’ for West Africa

Complementing this direct work with fishers, BirdLife have also sought to engage policymakers. Supporting science-based decision-making for a sustainable ‘blue economy’ is a key strategy in West Africa.

Alongside tackling bycatch, reducing the risk of offshore oil and gas pollution through shaping sector best practice is a priority. While the industry promises much needed prosperity for the region, it’s important its development is done sensitively.

Bolstering good governance of the marine environment in West Africa is a complex challenge but one with which BirdLife’s ability to develop partnerships with key players and decision-makers allows them to engage.

BirdLife are an increasingly important player in conservation in West Africa and a key partner for MAVA. With their global network, experience and expertise, they have a lot to offer the region. We’d like to see their network of local partners grow along with investment from other donors. Charlotte Karibuhoye, Director, West Africa Programme, MAVA Foundation

Peer-to-peer learning, professionalism and leadership

As MAVA approaches the end of its grant-making in 2022, nothing is more important to us than ensuring our partners can continue to deliver successful conservation.

As a network, BirdLife has long supported and grown its membership through a unique peer-to-peer learning approach; and has now become a key implementing partner for us as we invest in the organisational development of a number of common MAVA/BirdLife partners to improve their effectiveness and financial sustainability.

For a long time MAVA has provided organisational development support for partners through external consultancy. What makes BirdLife’s approach special is that they can provide support from within their own network. This means it’s a relationship of equals, peers from the same world speaking the same language of conservation and NGOs, and sharing a passion for birds, irrespective of whether they’re working together on governance, book-keeping or bird-tracking. Simon Mériaux, Manager, Impact & Sustainability, MAVA Foundation

As part of this collaboration, we’ve already invested €1.6 million in a capacity development fund to support the organisational development of existing BirdLife partners in the Mediterranean such as the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds or Association BIOM in Croatia.

Building on BirdLife’s Partner-to-Partner support for Partners in West Africa from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK, SEO BirdLife in Spain and Vogelbescherming in the Netherlands, we hope to expand the fund to strengthen the capacity of Partners such as Nature Mauritanie and candidate BirdLife partners such as Biosfera in Cape Verde.

Funds are allocated on the basis of organisational development needs identified through BirdLife’s Quality Assurance System and well thought out long-term strengthening plans. Common challenges such as strategic planning and governance are tackled proactively through development of good practice guides, while other needs are addressed through bespoke training and support. It’s a great way to invest in capacity building.  Julius Arinaitwe, Director, Partnership and Regions, BirdLife International

MAVA is also supporting the establishment of a new BirdLife office in Dakar, Senegal. This will give the partnership a permanent base in the region and facilitate conservation and potentially organisational development in Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone, as well as perhaps the Gambia and Guinea.

Supporting the growth of civil society in West Africa and the Mediterranean is vital, especially through empowering smaller NGOs and strengthening professionalism and governance. While it’s relatively easy to find conservation expertise, it’s harder to find professional managers and leaders, in part due to an absence of local development and training opportunities.

Donana (c) ORCA Production

Celebration and transition

In 2022, BirdLife will mark its centenary and MAVA will cease grant-making.

Until then, we will continue to support BirdLife in West Africa and the Mediterranean to ensure the organisation is able to deliver first class conservation and nurture civil society.

Our partnership exemplifies how we are rolling out our final strategy and BirdLife has risen to the challenge. When we exit, we hope to see fellow donors and foundations sustain the effort.

At the Flyways Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2018, many funders recognised the need for a Donor Alliance for Bird Conservation focused on birds as ambassadors for nature and people. It’s vital we make this happen. Of course, MAVA is not BirdLife’s only donor but growing global support for bird conservation is a must. Lynda Mansson, Director General, MAVA Foundation

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