Posted by: Dan | November 3, 2008

Science and the truth about rare birds

Via the Times of Malta, Andrè Raine of BirdLife Malta responds to the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK):

At a Maltese level, satellite tracking studies of this species have shown us that many of the lesser spotted eagles passing over the island are young birds (less than six months old) and come from German breeding grounds. Indeed, Sigmar, the lesser spotted eagle that was shot by poachers in Malta last year, came from Germany and was a bird that was part of a massive EU-funded conservation project in Brandenburg. In Germany, there are than 100 breeding pairs of these birds left. It is therefore patently obvious that the killing of even a single bird like this can have significant conservation implications, and the killing of Sigmar would most certainly have had a significant impact on the small German breeding population.



BirdLife Malta normally chooses not to reply to the numerous and often illogical letters from the FKNK that endlessly appear in the papers. However, one thing that we feel does require clarification concerns the FKNK administration’s frequent mis-use of scientific data to argue their points. We therefore feel that in view of the letter that appeared in The Times entitled Protected Birds Are Not All Rare (October 28) and previous letters and press releases of the FKNK on the same issue, it is important to clarify the meaning of “conservation status” and “rarity”.

In the letter in question, the FKNK mentions data from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species to suggest that the killing of protected species such as lesser spotted eagles in Malta is somehow not important in terms of conservation. It should be noted that this is the same FKNK that has previously attempted to discredit the IUCN Red List. The IUCN Red List evaluates the global conservation status of the world’s plant and animal species. This is where it is important to differentiate the work of the IUCN Red List, which assesses conservation status at a global level, and conservation issues in Malta (or any other EU member state), which are focused on a regional level relevant to the migration routes that the island lies upon.

Let us consider the lesser spotted eagle, the shooting of which the FKNK are so disparaging about. The lesser spotted eagle is a species of “Least Concern” at a global level in the IUCN Red List. At a European Level however, and thus at the level relevant to our discussion, the species is classed as a “Species of Conservation Concern” and importantly, it is given additional protection under Annex 1 of the Birds Directive because of this.

At a Maltese level, satellite tracking studies of this species have shown us that many of the lesser spotted eagles passing over the island are young birds (less than six months old) and come from German breeding grounds. Indeed, Sigmar, the lesser spotted eagle that was shot by poachers in Malta last year, came from Germany and was a bird that was part of a massive EU-funded conservation project in Brandenburg. In Germany, there are than 100 breeding pairs of these birds left. It is therefore patently obvious that the killing of even a single bird like this can have significant conservation implications, and the killing of Sigmar would most certainly have had a significant impact on the small German breeding population.

The FKNK use these same arguments when discussing spring hunting and the fabled turtle dove and common quail. Both of these species are classed as “Least Concern” at a global level, but “Species of Conservation Concern” at a European level. As should be fairly obvious, the conservation status of quail breeding in outer Mongolia, or the turtle doves of China, have no relevance to the conservation status of the birds which migrate over Malta as these other populations use entirely different migration routes.

Therefore, it is only the fact that both of these species are “Species of Conservation Concern” in Europe which is of any relevance to a discussion on these species in Malta. And of course in Malta, both species are very rare breeders thanks in large part to the shooting of these birds.

It is not clear why in these cases, the FKNK administration interpret the scientific data the way they do. However, we recommend that if any organisation is going to use scientific data to back up its arguments, then it should understand the basic and fundamental concepts involved before it does so.


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