Photograph of Lapwing

Lapwing by Martin Elliott. There are nowhere near as many as there used to be.

August 2012

The latest issue of Wild Travel magazine is now available in newsagents, or by subscription.

Over 300 million farmland birds gone
The latest data from BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council shows that the numbers of farmland birds in Europe continue to decline at a rapid rate. Many species are at their lowest population levels since monitoring began and 300 million birds have been lost since 1980. There are growing fears that the latest reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will not stop the catastrophe, because the damage to farmland quality which occurs as a result of the policy, mainly through intensification, is not going to be dealt with. 22 of the 37 species classified as farmland birds are decreasing and only 6 are increasing, with a further 6 being stable and 3 having uncertain trends. Overall, there has been a decline of 52% since 1980.

Of course, one could argue about the fine details of the CAP for years and the odd tweak might result in slowing the decline slightly but let's face it, if we continue to build houses, roads, shops, supermarkets, warehouses, factories etc. on farmland and intensify the farming on the little land left then the birds, and other wildlife, haven't got much hope. In other words, what is the point in a CAP let alone fiddling with it when the human population continues to grow and blinkered politicians continue to want the population to grow because they think it's the only way they can make the economy grow and no politician it seems can contemplate a world without economic growth. It appears to be a vicious, unbreakable, circle.

As far as birds and other wildlife are concerned there are simply too many of us. The UK is in the middle of a baby boom, but our rising birth-rate is nothing compared to rates of population growth across the rest of the world. As Sam Levenson once quipped, “Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped". The joke has already worn thin, because nearly 30 children are born every ten seconds now; that's 10,000 per hour! There are now 7 billion people living on planet Earth; about 9 million for every Mountain Gorilla. If another billion are born in the next 12 years, like the last 12, Earth may not be able to cope and even if it could provide for that many more humans what will the quality of their lives be like? What sort of Earth will they live on? One with very little other life, seems almost certain.

  • The estimated population of humans in ...

  • 2050 - 9 billion
  • 2011 - 7 billion
  • 1999 - 6 billion
  • 1987 - 5 billion
  • 1974 - 4 billion
  • 1960 - 3 billion
  • 1927 - 2 billion
  • 1804 - 1 billion

  • Okapi Conservation Project
    One terrible result of the escalating prices of ivory is that money from poaching bought the mai mai rebels in Congo enough weapons to kill six people and 13 Okapi at the Institute in the Congo for Conservation of Nature headquarters (ICCN) and Okapi Conservation Project base (OCP) in Epulu. It was 48 hours later before the Congolese Army (FARDC) and Monusco (UN) troops finally took control of the area around the town of Epulu at the end of June. The OCP made it clear that the mai mai rebels are not fighting for a political cause; they are Elephant poachers and illegal gold miners, who sought revenge on the OCP and ICCN for their efforts to eliminate poaching and mining from inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and Ituri Forest.

    The Amazon
    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff failed to veto the Forest Code bill, backed by powerful agricultural companies and approved by the Chambers of Deputies. Despite massive national and international pressure the president opted to reject just 12 of the 84 articles in the bill, an astonishing lack of commitment to the protection of the Amazon just weeks before Brazil hosts the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, but it should be of little surprise since most politicians have no idea whatsoever what the word 'sustainable' means. For a bit more on this see the WWF news item.

    Emperor Penguins
    Some good news. The first-ever penguin census from space has revealed that there are twice as many Emperor Penguins than previously thought. From satellite images taken in 2009 scientists were able to find seven new colonies (making a total of 44) and count about 595,000 birds. The study was published in PLoS one.

    BirdLife International believe that over 300,000 seabirds are killed every year after becoming snagged on baited longline fishing hooks in the Indian Ocean, and that longline fisheries are the main reason why 17 of the world's 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. Now, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission has agreed that all longline vessels, which use thousands of hooks on lines up to and over 100 km (60 miles) long, will be required to use two of three mitigation measures; (i) streamers to scare the birds away; (ii) weighted hooks which sink more quickly; and (iii) fish at night when birds are less active.

    Latest Red List for Birds
    The latest IUCN/BirdLife list of bird species threatened with extinction numbers 1253, a staggering 12.5% of the world total of species which they consider to be 9920. Of these, 189 are regarded as critically endangered! A further 843 species are classified as near-threatened. The major reason why so many birds are struggling to survive is the loss of habitats (especially forests) to agriculture, a grave issue significantly affecting 87% of threatened species.

    Spoon-billed Sandpiper
    One bird definitely on the Red List is the Spoon-billed Sandpiper even though up to 103, one of the highest counts of the species in recent decades, were observed on October 12th at Rudong, in Jiangsu Province just north of the Yangtze Estuary in China. The mudflats are currently unprotected and threatened by several industrial development projects, as well as by an introduced species of spartina grass which is spreading across the mud. BirdLife, the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society and the Wild Bird Society of Shanghai, who found the birds, are working on trying to save Rudong, helped by a grant from Disney’s Friends for Change, and Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one the species benefiting from BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions Programme. If you would like to support their sterling work for Spoon-billed Sandpiper by becoming a BirdLife Species Champion please email

    In an effort to boost the rapidly declining population of the extraordinary Spoon-billed Sandpiper - thought to be around 200 pairs - the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) are spearheading an attempt to establish a captive breeding programme which got underway this summer when they collected eggs and successfully hatched 17 chicks from Chukotka in Siberia. The 13 surviving chicks have now been moved to WWT Slimbridge where they will hopefully produce young of their own, in order to boost the wild population. Continued habitat loss, as well as hunting (on the birds' wintering grounds) may of course render such an intrusive project meaningless. For the latest news see the WWT website.

    When buying books please consider doing so via this WildSounds link. If you do then 3-5% of the book's (or any other product's) cost will help the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This is because we are members of their Commission for Conservation programme, and are currently supporting BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions Programme to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

    One great value for money book just out is Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide, by Steve N G Howell, illustrated with numerous fascinating photographs.