New Web-Tool Shows Critical Migratory Waterbird Sites Need Urgent Protection


A new website launched today, 14 June 2010, by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) reveals major gaps in the protection of many critical sites used by migratory waterbirds across Africa the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia.

Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor in Chilika, Orissa, India. Photograph by J.M.Garg from Wikipedia

A new website launched today, 14 June 2010, by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) reveals major gaps in the protection of many critical sites used by migratory waterbirds across Africa the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia.  A staggering one-third of the critical sites (representing over 1,000 individual sites within the network) are entirely unprotected, putting the future of many migratory waterbirds at risk.


Migratory waterbirds – such as waders, terns and geese - need an unbroken chain of wetlands to complete their annual life-cycles. These same wetlands benefit people by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism. However, wetlands are amongst the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems and, consequently, an alarming 42% of

the migratory waterbird species across Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia are in decline.


The new Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool provides comprehensive information on 294 waterbird species from 3,020 sites. It is designed to make information easily available on the most important sites for migratory waterbirds, both at the national and international level.



Lesser Flamingo at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Gloucestershire, England. Photograph by Adrian Pingstone, taken in June 2003. From Wikipedia.


Example: The Lesser Flamingo


The Near Threatened Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), is an example of a species that responds to changes in local environmental conditions by moving between wetlands, and thus depends on a network of suitable sites. 


However, a map generated by the CSN Tool clearly shows that only two of the five most important sites for the species in Tanzania are protected, others are only partially protected, while Lake Eyasi (where up to 35 % of the population has been recorded) is not protected.


While Lake Natron in Tanzania is by far the most important breeding site for this species, (it is the only breeding site for the East African population which represents >75% of the species’ global population), the sites that the species uses outside the breeding season are also important.


The CSN Tool clearly identifies the non-breeding sites which are currently not protected, providing useful information for the establishment of an effective network of protected areas in the country for the species.



The Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool


The CSN Tool brings together information held in four databases used for international waterbird and wetland conservation. Jointly developed by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the CSN Tool internet portal provides comprehensive information on 294 waterbird species, the critical sites upon which they rely and the flyways they use. The CSN currently covers over 3020 sites of importance to 561 populations of waterbirds. It also helps to highlight areas for which information is lacking.


A consultation version of the CSN Tool is now available accessible at



The four databases included in the CSN Tool are:


World Bird Database (WBDB), managed by BirdLife International, stores information on all of the world’s bird species and the key sites identified for their conservation (Important Bird

Areas - IBAs).



International Waterbird Census (IWC) Database, maintained by Wetlands International,  includes over 25,000 sites of importance to waterbirds. It contains the most complete waterbird count data available in the African-Eurasian region and other flyways.


Ramsar Sites Information Service (RSIS) provides data on wetlands designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, generally called Ramsar sites. Wetlands International manages the database for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.


World Database on Protected Areas (WDBPA) provides the most comprehensive dataset on protected areas worldwide and is managed by UNEP-WCMC in partnership with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and the World Database on Protected Areas Consortium.


“The Critical Site Network Tool will provide an unprecedented level of access to information for all waterbird species covered by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA). It brings together for the first time some of the most current and comprehensive information available internationally on the species and the sites they use,“ said Bert Lenten - Executive Secretary of AEWA - an international wildlife treaty administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


“To target conservation efforts effectively, access to reliable information about the critical sites that migratory waterbirds depend upon, and the ecological requirements of these species, is key,” underlined Lenten.


“The Critical Site Network Tool identifies priority sites for the protection of migratory waterbirds, and also highlights knowledge gaps; showing us that many stop-over and non-breeding localities are still poorly known,” said Dr Marco Lambertini - Chief Executive of BirdLife International. "Only by combining adequate knowledge, targeted action, appropriate funding and local capacity on the ground will we be able to make a difference for migratory species."


The CSN Tool also identifies sites and populations that need protection at a national level. For example, it has allowed conservationists to identify that only two of the five most important sites for the Near Threatened Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor in Tanzania - a vital country for the species - are currently protected.


Such information is now publicly available online, and will not only significantly help conservation efforts, but also facilitate national implementation of international environment agreements, such as AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The CSN Tool will also help support the implementation of the EU Birds Directive and the Bern Convention.


Some of the most significant threats to critical sites across the network include expanding aquaculture and agriculture, as well as disturbance to birds. As this shows, policies within the agricultural, water management and energy sectors strongly influence biodiversity issues. 


“There is tremendous potential for the CSN Tool to benefit decision-making in these areas as well.  This tool mobilizes information about these critical sites and the species that depend on them, for use in impact assessments, spatial planning and other development processes that currently have no access to these data” said Ward Hagemeijer, Head of Biodiversity at Wetlands International.  “This can make a real difference in the way development will be managed — avoiding, minimizing and mitigating impacts and contributing to sustainability”.


“The CSN Tool is a powerful new resource which will help strengthen both the implementation of AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands”, said Dr Nick Davidson - Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention. “It will provide enhanced support to governments and others in recognising and managing key wetlands for waterbirds, including through their designation

as Wetlands of International Importance, and provide support for decision-making to secure wetlands throughout the region so that they continue to provide their many benefits to people and nature.”


The online-tool is being unveiled today at an International Waterbird Conservation Symposium taking place in The Hague, The Netherlands, to mark the 15th Anniversary of AEWA - the international wildlife treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds which use the African–Eurasian Flyway.


The CSN Tool has been jointly developed by Wetlands International, BirdLife International and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP–WCMC) in the framework of the UNEP-GEF Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), German Government and several other partners and donors. WOW is the largest international waterbird and wetland conservation initiative ever undertaken in the African-Eurasian region.  The development of the CSN Tool has been a highly collaborative endeavour bringing together over 200 experts from 100 countries in the African-Eurasian region.



Flyway Conservation


Waterbirds travel vast distances, crossing many countries and often entire continents during their annual migration cycles along ‘flyways’ that connect breeding, staging and non-breeding areas. These migratory cycles highlight the connectivity and interdependence of ecosystems across the

globe. Moreover, these critical wetland sites the birds rely on provide important ecosystem services that make them vital for people, both locally as well as on a wider scale.


Maintaining a functioning ‘ecological network’ of such sites is therefore key to the flyway approach, and complementary local, national and international conservation action is essential to maintain healthy waterbird populations and conserve critical wetlands along these flyways.


This concept is the essence of flyway conservation. AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands outline the requirements and provide guidelines for achieving effective management of flyway networks. The CSN Tool will help them meet these requirements.



The Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project


The UNEP-GEF Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) African-Eurasian Flyways Project is a US$ 12 million initiative funded by The Global Environment Facility, the German Government, the UNEP-AEWA Secretariat and many other donors. The project is a joint effort between UNEP-GEF, Wetlands International, BirdLife International, UNEP-AEWA, the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, UNOPS, UNEP-WCMC and a range of other local partners in Africa and Eurasia.


The area covered by the initiative includes all 118 Range States of the UNEP-administered African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement, covering all of Africa, all of Europe, south-west Asia (including the Middle East and Central Asian States), Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago.


For more information on the WOW project please visit:

The Project Newsletter: "Flyway Conservation at Work - Across Africa and Eurasia" is available on the WOW Web site.

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