While there are increasing reports of species taking advantage of the confinement of a large part of the world’s population to venture into urban areas, this calm also has adverse effects on biodiversity and wetlands. Several members and partners of the Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands, a network of 28 NGOs that aspires to collectively increase the visibility and protection of wetlands in Mediterranean society, have highlighted a more worrying situation.
In several places the paralysis of activities is being used to pursue controversial construction projects. These include hydropower projects, such as in the Balkans, where investors appear to be taking advantage of reduced government activity, including reduced inspection and control activities, to advance these projects under illegal or near illegal conditions. For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, south of Sarajevo, destruction continues with five dam projects on the Bjelava, Mala Bjelava, Vrhovinska, Željeznica and Prača rivers (see here).
Investors are also taking advantage of bans preventing civil society gatherings and protests. This is the case in Turkey, around Lake Salda (Burdur), where a development project is under way while the lake is closed to civil society and the local population opposes the project (see here and here). The government has also taken advantage of the pandemic to relax legislation on protected areas, which will allow construction of mines, tourism facilities, dams, and hydropower plants in protected areas, and approved a tourism development project on the shores of the country’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Beyşehir (see here).
The Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands denounces these activities which contradict sustainable development and democratic principles. The current crisis, on the contrary, highlights the links between human populations and ecosystems and the need to preserve them. Wetlands are essential for the resilience of human societies in a context of global warming and increasing scarcity of water resources. It is unacceptable that the current relative calm serves to destroy biodiversity in general and wetlands in particular.
If you are aware of similar developments in your respective regions, please contact us: [email protected] and join us on facebook.
The Tour du Valat exceptionally opens its doors to the public on 2 February this year on the occasion of World Wetlands Day (WWD) in order to make all generations aware of the need to preserve wetlands in the Camargue as elsewhere.
Every year, WWD celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention for the Protection of Wetlands on 2 February 1971 in Iran, of which Luc Hoffmann, founder of the Tour du Valat in 1954, was one of the main instigators.
This year’s theme was “Wetlands and Biodiversity”.
On this occasion, Brigitte Poulin, researcher at the Tour du Valat, presented a conference entitled “Tribute to biodiversity: birds”, which can be viewed in video (in French) by clicking on the image below.
Is mosquito control compatible with biodiversity conservation?
Is mosquito control compatible with biodiversity conservation?
A look at 10 years of studies in Europe
Tour du Valat, a research institute for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands, was a pioneer for demonstrating environmental impacts of the bacterial insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis (Bti). Its studies, launched in 2006 within the framework of an experimental mosquito control program in the Camargue, under the auspice of the Bouches du Rhône department, are today at the origin of an increasing concern about the negative effects of Bti. Bti is widely used to reduce mosquito nuisance in Europe and other parts of the world, and although it is the most selective and least toxic agent currently available to control mosquito larvae, many Europeans researchers consider that its environmental impact should be reevaluated by independent research institutions.
The scientific paper « Environmental and socioeconomic effects of mosquito control in Europe using the biocide Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. Israelensis (Bti) », recently published in Science of Total Environment authored by an international team of scientists comprising ecologists, ecotoxicologists, microbiologists and economists from four European institutions (including the Tour du Valat) constitutes the most recent and complete evaluation of the peer-reviewed literature on Bti impacts to date. We learned that the risk of resistance of mosquitoes to Bti is relatively limited, despite the persistence of Bti spores and toxins in the environment. The reported effects on non-target organisms challenge the claimed environmental safety of Bti. By reducing mosquitoes and non-target midges that represent central food sources for many animal species such as dragonflies, amphibians, and birds, Bti has an impact on wetland biodiversity.
These findings are clearly presented in a television report broadcasted by CBC/Radio-Canada within the frame of the weekly program La Semaine Verte aired on 18 April 2020. Shot in Canada, France and Germany, this report offers a complete coverage of Bti use from marketing and spraying methods to modus operandi and persistence in the environment, as well as direct and indirect effects on the non-target fauna.
The seminal studies of Tour du Valat highlighting the effects of Bti on the food web (size of house martin broods are reduced by a third due to chick starvation) are the starting point for this synthesis, then the report shows that Bti can directly affect amphibian growth and fitness. These results, found by the research team of Carsten Brühl from the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany, are remarkable because it was believed that only insects closely related to mosquitoes could be physiologically affected by Bti. These impacts emphasize those deriving from the shortage of mosquitoes and non-biting midges as essential food sources.
At a time when we are in the middle of the sixth global biodiversity extinction crisis, which is particularly affecting insects, it is important to put into question the widespread use of Bti. This is all the more important when mosquito control is not motivated by public health issues and occurs in natural areas rich in biodiversity.
“Environmental and socioeconomic effects of mosquito control in Europe using the biocide Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis (Bti)” was published online in open access in Science of the Total Environment on 2 April 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137800
The paper is authored by: Carsten A. Brühl (University of Koblenz-Landau), Laurence Després (University of Grenoble Alpes), Oliver Frör (University of Koblenz-Landau), Chandrashekhar D. Patil (University of Perpignan), Brigitte Poulin (Tour du Valat research institute), Guillaume Tetreau (University of Grenoble Alpes), Stefanie Allgeier (University of Koblenz-Landau).
Documentary « Bti, a harmless larvicide? » from the television program La Semaine Verte (the green week) aired on 04/18/20 and produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
We can no longer ignore the links between deforestation, wildlife trade, intensive farming, land artificialisation and the negative impacts of infectious diseases on humans. It’s time to build a resilient economy that preserves nature and the services it provides!
The Tour du Valat has undertaken reflections on this question within the Ramsar France wetlands association, and has published an op-ed on its web site that is supported by members of parliament, including Frédérique Tuffnell and Jérôme Bignon, as well as the main networks of French protected areas. This opinion piece calls for the construction of an economy that takes full account of the climate and biodiversity. “The respite our planet has been experiencing during the lockdown must not be transformed into a deferment.”
This article was published in Biological Conservation.
It is part of Tania de Almeida‘s PhD. It highlights the engineer’s role of the Messor barbarus harvester ant on Mediterranean dry grasslands and its impact on the Crau steppe being restored.
M. barbarus improves soil fertility and leads to a significant increase in biomass. It modifies the seed bank by making it evolve in the direction of the reference steppe. It contributes to the heterogeneity of plant communities and the increase in species richness. Within ant nests, the species are more characteristic of mesotrophic environments, whereas outside the nest, the species are more characteristic of compact soils . M. barbarus is accelerating the restoration of the Crau steppe.
Tania De Almeida is a PdD student at the Mediterranean Institute of marine and terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology (IMBE) co-supervised by the Tour du Valat (read more).
Tania PhD subject is : Restoration: using ants as ecosystem engineers to restore degraded areas in Provence, as part of the Tour du Valat’s activities on ecological restoration (read more).
Although not widely used, ecosystem engineers represent a promising and sustainable tool in nature-based ecosystem management and restoration. In grassland ecosystems, a few invertebrates that engineer soils have been identified as key species regulating soil nutrients and plant communities’ diversity and dynamics. Here, we assessed the role of the harvester ant Messor barbarus, an ecological engineer, in a Mediterranean dry grassland under restoration by characterising its nest environment, particularly the soil and vegetation. We found profound differences in soil physical and chemical variables and plant community structure between nests and ant-free patches in the restored grassland. Messor barbarus has improved soil fertility, driven the seed bank towards the reference grassland and significantly increased plant biomass, species richness and micro-local-heterogeneity. As biological filters, M. barbarus has driven plant communities towards a new trajectory in the restored site. Ant patches are characterised by mesotrophic species, whereas ant-free patches are dominated by species characteristic of compacted soils. They have accelerated the ecological recovery of Mediterranean dry grassland plants by directly and indirectly facilitating their re-establishment. These results illustrate the potential key role of ants as ecological engineers for the conservation and restoration of Mediterranean grasslands.
Bibliographical reference : De Almeida. T., Blight, O., F. Mesléard, A. Bulot, E. Provost and T. Dutoit. 2020. Harvester ants as ecological engineers for Mediterranean grassland restoration: Impacts on soil and vegetation. Biological Conservation 245 (2020). doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108547
Anatidae in the Camargue : Questions for Lucie Schmaltz
She answers questions from the Tour du Valat about the ducks, geese, and swans (Anatidae) in the Camargue.
1) What is the importance of the Camargue as a wetland for waterbirds on a national scale?
The Camargue has been a pioneer in the development of counting waterbirds in France. In 1955, a decade before the start of coordinated counts of wintering Anatidae and Coots in Europe, Luc Hoffmann directed the first complete counting campaign for waterbirds in the Camargue, one year after the creation of the Tour du Valat biological station and research centre. It is therefore no coincidence that, in 1986, the Camargue became the first Wetland of International Importance to be designated in France under the Ramsar Convention. In addition, the Camargue ranks first among the sites of importance in France in the WetlandsInternational census.
One of the Camargue’s strongest features is that it is located in an area of overlapping biogeographic populations that use Mediterranean/Black Sea and West Atlantic flyways. With an average of nearly 181,000 waterbirds counted annually over the past ten years, it contributes 6% of the national average total of almost 2.8 million waterbirds in mid-January. According to the latest assessment in mid-January 2019, the Camargue is the leading French wintering site for 14 waterbird species, and especially for the Anatidae for which it contributes almost 53% of the national population in mid-January of Red-crested Pochards, 39% of Gadwell, and about 25% of wintering Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Green-winged Teal. The site also hosts the largest French wintering contingents of Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, and Common Coot. Its importance for the Common Crane and the Eurasian Spoonbill is continuing to increase.
The Camargue meets the criteria of international importance for a total of 17 species, which is to say that it hosts more than 1% of the estimated biogeographic populations of the following birds: Green-winged Teal, Common Coot, Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Common Crane, Dunlin, Gadwell, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Common Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, Mute Swan, Pied Avocet, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Common Ringed Plover and Eurasian Spoonbill. By comparison, the sites of international importance on the Atlantic coast meet the criteria for 1% of the biogeographical population of eight species on average (Arcachon catchment basin, Guérande peninsula, Aiguillon Bay and the Moëze-Oléron Nature Reserve).
2) What are the differences and the similarities in the trends of populations between the Camargue and the other sites in France and Europe?
Overall, the major waterbird number trends in mid-January follow the flyway population trends indicated in the last Report on the conservation status of migratory waterbirds in the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement area. This is also true in the Camargue, where there is strong growth in the numbers of Great Egret, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Common Crane. In 1993, only 60 Great Egrets were reported in mid-January, whereas more than 700 individuals were reported in 2019. The same goes for the Eurasian Spoonbill: one bird was reported in 2000, compared to 160 in 2019. The Camargue also became the second most important French wintering site of the Common Crane, which was extremely rare, if not nearly absent from Camargue in the early 2000s, because it was mainly confined to the wintering sites of Lorraine, Champagne and the Landes de Gascogne, while now about 15-20,000 cranes have been counted over the last three years. The sharp increase in these large wading birds surveyed in mid-January in France and in Western Europe is concomitant with the growth of their breeding populations and distribution areas. The milder winter climate conditions, cessation of persecution and the establishment of regulatory protection in the 1970s combined with strong conservation measures are all factors that have certainly played a role in the growth of these populations in Western Europe. Finally, the Mute Swan is also experiencing very strong growth in the Camargue, as is the overall trend observed for this species.
As for declining populations, which are also observed, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck communities are shrinking in the Camargue as elsewhere. Over the past ten years, the number of Greylag Goose counted in mid-January in the Camargue seems to have declined, despite the favourable status of the central European population.
It is difficult to draw conclusions from these divergences, because the censusing conditions must be taken into account in the Camargue, where making an inventory is difficult due to the scale of this mega-site and its significant interannual variations. David de Vallecillo‘s thesis, part of which is still in progress, will certainly improve our understanding of these phenomena. His research focuses on the influence of counting methods (air counting vs. ground counting), and of the observer, on the validity of the census and our ability to detect population trends. Finally, little difference was observed between the trends in the numbers of waterbirds reported in the Camargue in mid-January and the national and flyway population trends. However, the strong growth of the waterbird communities in the Camargue, as well as at the national and flyway levels, are probably linked to the overall improvement in the quality of French wintering sites since the monitoring began. Since then, trends in the Camargue and in France have rather accurately reflected the population trends in global flyways.
3) What are the differences between the situation in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic?
Knowledge of waterbird populations has improved significantly since the beginning of the Wetlands International censuses and the related initiatives to develop the carrying capacity of the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean-Black Sea biogeographic regions. The overall trends in waterbird population numbers in these two flyways are almost identical in terms of the number of declining, stable or increasing species: 40% of the populations seem to be in decline compared to 60% increasing or stable. In France, this ratio is identical when we look at the short-term trends of the approximately 70 species that were monitored in mid-January. The strong long-term growth of waterbirds is more marked (70% of species have been increasing since 1980), which suggests that the national situation is more favourable than in global flyways. In particular, coastal shorebirds have increased considerably since the monitoring began and contribute to this overall increase in the same way as the large wading birds we talked about earlier.
The population trends observed on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts correspond broadly to this national pattern without a significant difference, except for the Anatidae, which are increasing more on the Mediterranean coast than on the Atlantic coast, in particular in the Bay of Biscay. For shorebirds and other species of waterbirds (including Ardeidae, Ibis, and Spoonbills), the increase is widespread on the three coasts, with the exception of three species of shorebirds in decline in the English Channel – the Pied Avocet is declining on the main site of the Seine estuary since the changes to the estuary and Port 2000; Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit are also declining across the Channel.
Overall, the French Atlantic coast has seen a considerable increase in the numbers of coastal shorebirds in connection with the improved carrying capacity of the sites and the creation of large nature reserves in estuarine bays. Significantly, certain populations, such as the Sanderling and the Black-tailed Godwit, have grown considerably.
Comparison is difficult on the Mediterranean side: shorebirds are less numerous and are mainly represented by three species – the Dunlin, Little Stint, and Pied Avocet, all of which show significant increases. The other less abundant species, such as the Grey Plover, Eurasian Curlew, and Common Redshank, are also all increasing in the Mediterranean. Shorebirds respond particularly well to the protection of sites and to the dedicated management measures in most Mediterranean lagoons, which include the establishment of quiet zones, and water level management. As for the Anatidae and Coot, the trends show widespread increases, more significant in the Mediterranean than in the Bay of Biscay. The numbers of Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail counted in mid-January are declining in the Bay of Biscay while remaining stable or even increasing moderately in the Mediterranean. The numbers of Green-winged Teal and Common Coot are increasing in the Mediterranean and are stable in the Bay of Biscay. Certain species, such as the Mallard, Common Shelduck, and Mute Swan, are also increasing significantly more in the Mediterranean than in the Bay of Biscay. The carrying capacity of large Mediterranean bodies of water and lagoons, where management actions target mainly the Anatidae, could be greater than in sites along the Bay of Biscay, which contain large intertidal areas or estuarine bays that are ultimately more suitable for large concentrations of Charadriiformes.
The coasts of the English Channel-North Sea and the Bay of Biscay have also experienced very significant declines of species that are rarely or not found in the Mediterranean, such as the Common Eider, Greater Scaup, and Common Goldeneye. The severe decline of the Tufted Duck, formerly an abundant species on the Mediterranean coast, has also been observed in the Bay of Biscay, where this species is in moderate decline.
It is difficult to interpret the few differences that exist between the Mediterranean coasts and the Atlantic coasts. Overall, the situation of waterbirds in France, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean has greatly improved, and the declines observed today seem to reflect population trends more than trends specific to our country. In this context, the major intergovernmental conventions such as AEWA, and Ramsar, and initiatives developing at the flyway scale like the Mediterranean Waterbird Network and Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative are essential tools for working to protect wetlands and waterbird populations on the global scale of their ranges.
The Camargue covers 130,000 hectares of the Rhone Delta. It is the largest wetland in France, and plays a major role in providing nesting, migrating, and wintering sites for waterbirds. It is recognised as a site of international importance for the wintering and conservation of at least 18 species of waterbirds, including seven duck species and the Common Coot. Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans) use the entire mosaic of habitats (rice fields, salt flats, natural habitats, and hunting marshes) that make up the Camargue. Their numbers and distribution depend largely on the activities carried out in these habitats, which may involve agriculture, tourism, hunting, fishing, and environmental protection.
a. Aerial counts
The first aerial counts of Anatidae wintering in the Camargue were initiated by L. Hoffmann and J. Penot in 1955, with the aim of analysing long-term demographic trends. These counts were carried out by Alain Tamisier, a researcher at the CNRS, from 1964 to 2002, based on a standardised protocol. Michel Gauthier-Clerc, a research scientist at the Tour du Valat, carried out the monitoring from 2004 to 2013. Since January 2014, the surveys have been conducted by Jean-Baptiste Mouronval, who is currently a project manager at the federation for the protection and management of the Gard Camargue in the department of Gard (SMCG). The counts are co-funded by the French Biodiversity Office, the Tour du Valat Foundation, and the SMCG.
Although three scientists have been in charge successively over the past fifty years, the techniques and counting methods have remained basically the same: once a month, from September to March, a light aircraft flies over the marshes and bodies of water (currently more than 180 units), at a low altitude (80 to 100m) and at a speed of about 180 km/h. Birds are identified and the number of each species is estimated instantly ‘by eye’, usually without the use of optical or photographic equipment. The raw data is entered in a voice recorder and collated after the plane lands. The overflight of the Camargue lasts approximately 5 1/2 hours, not including refuelling time.
b. What is the purpose of aerial counts?
In general, avifauna counts are used to measure the conservation status of species, for example in the context of implementing the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) or evaluating the implementation of the European Birds Directive. The counts are also used to identify and preserve areas that are important for waterbird conservation. The purpose of the aerial counts is therefore not to obtain precise or comprehensive figures, but to compile an index always based on the same method that can be compared by year and month in order to reliably identify the long-term trends.
2. Inventory of wintering anatidae
According to the aerial counts (Figure 1) over the last 20 years, the total number of huntable Anatidae in the Camargue has returned to the same level as in the 1980s and 1990s, after an increase in the 2000s. The effects stemming from changing the scientist conducting the counts in 2004 and 2013 are currently being assessed.
In recent years:
The Camargue has experienced a sharp decrease in diving ducks (Common Pochard and Tufted Duck) leading to their almost complete disappearance from the area. The reasons lie mainly outside the Camargue and concern the breeding areas: predation by mammals, intensification or abandonment of fish farms, reduction of wetlands used for the extraction of raw materials in Siberia for the Pochard, milder winters and currently abundant food resources in alpine lakes in the form of zebra mussels (an invasive alien species) for the Tufted Duck.
After a rapid colonisation phase in the early 2000s, the Greylag Goose is decreasing in the Camargue (Figure 2), whereas their number appears to be stable at their breeding grounds in Central Europe. Is it because hunters are specialising in this species leading to an increase in hunting pressure, or has there been a transient wave of the Greylag Goose in the Camargue due to a greater preference for wintering sites that are closer to its breeding grounds? Studies are being conducted to respond to this question.
Herbivorous Anatidae are generally increasing in France (see National Synthesis 2019;) and also in the Camargue, especially the Mute Swan, which likes the rich seagrass beds in the freshwater wetlands.
The Teal population has decreased compared to the 2010s, but remains about the same as in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Mallard population has decreased since the early 2000s. An analysis of recovered Mallard rings shows that the current wintering population is made up of resident birds (including released birds) and short-distance migrants. The Camargue receives fewer and fewer migrants birds from Russia and Scandinavia, because they are now wintering further north.
The populations of the Red-crested Pochard, Gadwall, and Eurasian Wigeon are stable, although a decrease in the numbers of Eurasian Wigeon has been observed elsewhere in Europe.
Last, more and more Northern Shoveler and Pintail have been stopping over in the Camargue, especially over the past decade.
The number of birds bagged is decreasing throughout the Camargue: 80,000 ducks were harvested in the 2000s, compared to about 175,000 in the 1970s, although the data show statistical uncertainty. There are various reasons for this drop: a decrease in hunting activity due to the shorter hunting season (197 days in 1980 compared to 160 days today) and a smaller number of hunters, recent mild winters (lack of cold weather) and the abundance of food connected, in particular, to the grain hunters leave for ducks and marsh management practices, which explain why the ducks move around less, or later in the evening, thus escaping hunting pressure.
b. Perspectives in the context of climate change
The effects of global warming have been observed in the Camargue, particularly with higher temperatures and lower precipitation in August and September. Many more migrating ducks are expected to remain in northern Europe and no longer come down to winter in such large numbers in the Camargue. This shift has already occurred with the Common Teal, whose wintering numbers on the lakes in the former Champagne region has sharply increased in recent years. Conversely, the observed increase in wintering numbers of Pintail or Northern Shoveler in the Camargue could be due to the northward movement of birds that have previously wintered in Africa. In the near future, the reduced flow of the Rhone River will reduced freshwater resources, causing saline wedge intrusion and a more frequent inflow of sea water. The Delta is expected to become increasingly saline, which will probably not be favourable for the feeding of ducks.
The population decrease of some species of monitored Anatidae is commonly found throughout France, and even Europe, and is attributable to climatic causes or wide-scale changes in human activities. However, bird distribution throughout the Delta has also changed significantly, due to changes in the legal status of some of the sites (creation of nature reserves), and changes in agricultural and water management practices. While some may feel that there is a decrease in the bird population in the marshes they visit, others believe they are seeing an increase in numbers. In fact, the distribution of wintering ducks has fluctuated greatly between the east and west of the Camargue over the past 20 years. Detailed studies of the evolution of this intra-Camargue distribution are underway within David Vallecillo‘s thesis research.
The Anatidae ultimately make up only a part of all waterbirds, which include countless other species, many of which nest in the Camargue in springtime (herons, spoonbills, gulls, shorebirds, and others). All of these waterbirds make use of both protected and exploited areas (hunting marshes, salt marshes, rice fields). This complementary site management undoubtedly explains why most waterbird species maintain good population numbers throughout the year, unlike other species such as birds living in agricultural habitats, which are decreasing.
Contact : Jocelyn Champagnon, Research Scientist (e-mail)
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Guillemain M, Champagnon J, Massez G, Pernollet CA, George T, Momerency A, et al. Becoming more sedentary? Changes in recovery positions of Mallard Anas platyrhynchos ringed in the Camargue, France, over the last 50 years. Wildfowl. 2015;65: 51–63.
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Petition of Scientists of the Vojsa River handed to Albanian President
The Vjosa River in Albania is one of the most iconic rivers in Europe. Together with its tributaries it forms the most intact river system of the continent outside Russia. However, the Vjosa is at risk due to the planned construction of hydropower plants as well as infrastructural development plans near the river’s mouth.
Experts of river landscapes from various scientific disciplines stress that recently conducted research in the Vjosa basin strongly suggests an urgent need for a careful re-assessment of risks posed by the planned hydropower projects at Kalivaçi and Poçemi.
In addition to the destruction of unique ecosystems, these projects – according to recent research –will:
fail to mitigate the downstream flood risk as the dam is not designed to retain large flood flows;
hamper agricultural development by lowering the groundwater table and allowing salt-water intrusion downstream of the reservoirs;
constrain touristic development due to coastal erosion as a result of high sediment retention in the reservoirs;
generate high maintenance costs of the reservoirs and a comparatively short life-span thereof, as high load of fine and coarse particulate sediments will fill the reservoir;
increase hazards of seismic activity in the Vjosa region.
In line with these risks, these scientists, urge, with a petition, the Albanian government, namely Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister of Tourism and Environment Blendi Klosi and Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku to:
agree on a time period of two years (2020/2021) for a thorough review of the current hydropower development plans in the Vjosa River basin;
jointly explore economically feasible options for a sustainable ‘Vjosa River Strategy’ within the framework of the evolving River Basin Management Plan;
establish a ‘Vjosa River Science Round Table’ involving national and international experts in order to allow for informed decision making on key identified issues related to the Vjosa River catchment;
follow Albania’s political and legal commitments to meet international conventions as well as EU requirements.
This Petition of Scientists for the Vjosa River has been handed over to the Albanian President, the Head of Parliament, the Vice Minister of Infrastructure and Energy as well as to the ombudsman in Tirana on February 14th.
The President strongly emphasized his support to protect the last wild river in Europe. He suggested the organization of an international science conference under his auspice, in order to discuss the importance of protecting the Vjosa from hydropower projects. The Head of Parliament also promised to support the scientific evidence brought forward by the scientists.
Several scientists from the Tour du Valat were signatories to this petition.
In addition, three scientists from the Tour du Valat carried out fieldwork there in May 2019 to improve knowledge of the biodiversity of the Vjosa river catchment area. Their report provides information on the impacts that these dam projects could have on biodiversity. Another fieldwork was initially planned for the spring.
Training on Nature-based solutions with ReNature in Malta
ReNature project (European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme) offered a training course on the 24 and 25 February 2020 in Malta. The topic of this course was nature-based solutions in rural areas.
Nature-based solutions (NbS) are ecosystem-based solutions that address societal challenges in a resource-efficient and adaptable manner and provide simultaneously economic, social, and environmental benefits. They are a priority for the European Union research and innovation agenda.
With the help of lecturers from leading European institutions, the training participants learned from other case studies, how to apply NbS projects in rural areas. The projects presented ranges from wild pollinator’s conservation, the importance of natural hedges in agriculture, assessments of non-material ecosystem benefits of natural protected areas, etc.
An overview of Mediterranean ongoing initiatives was presented, as well as their methodology to assess the different NbS projects based on environmental monitoring and socio-economic data.
A representative from the Tour du Valat, Lorena Segura, talked about the experiences of the Tour du Valat on nature-based solutions to sea-level rise through coastal wetland restoration (booklet to download below).
ReNature establishes twinning between the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST), and internationally leading research institutions from other member states, to stimulate knowledge exchange between them and nurture a new generation of scientists and practitioners around an emerging nature-based solutions cluster for Malta.
2 lakes, 2 decades of transboundary collaboration, more than 2020 steps taken for the protection of Prespa
It is well known that Prespa is one of the most important places for nature in Europe, due to its ancient lakes and the fact that such a wide variety of forms of life is found in such a relatively small area. Its rare biodiversity is made up of hundreds of species of birds, thousands of plant species, endemic fish, rare mammals and unusual habitat types, from wet meadows by the lakeside to the sub-alpine meadows high in the mountains which surround the lakes. However, Prespa also has another important reason to feel proud. It was the first – and for a long time the only – place in the troubled Balkans where the states and the people that share the area built bridges in order to safeguard its natural and cultural values and sustainable development. This cross-border co-operation, despite the adverse environment, has bloomed and produced fruit for two decades now.
2nd February 2020 marked 20 years to the day since the Prime Ministers of Albania, Greece and North Macedonia met together in Agios Germanos and established the “Transboundary Prespa Park” with a joint declaration, agreeing that the three countries would face the future having common goals for the protection of the natural and cultural heritage of the basin and its sustainable development. The international Ramsar Convention for Wetlands and the MedWet initiative greeted this step with enthusiasm and many other international organisations decisively supported the effort made in the two decades which followed, as the Prespa Park process can serve as a global model. More details about it.
The Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP) is a major partner for the Tour du Valat with continuous collaboration for more than 30 years. Tour du Valat has contributed to a wide range of projects with SPP on the monitoring of pelican breeding populations on the Lake, the monitoring of fish populations, of the reedbed and to the setting up of transboundary monitoring. In the management side, the Tour du Valat have contributed to identify fishing regulation measures for the sustainable exploitation of this natural resource by local fishermen, participated to management experiments of reedbeds and wet meadows, etc.
The effectiveness of the Ramsar convention in preserving wintering waterbirds in the Mediterranean
An international collaboration involving researchers from the Tour du Valat, the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB), the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN), the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and partners of the Mediterranean Waterbird Network (ROEM) from different Mediterranean countries highlighted the effectiveness of Ramsar sites for waterbirds to enhance waterbird populations across the Mediterranean Basin. This study has just been published in Biological Conservation journal.
Although biological conservation is based on international agreements, its effectiveness depends on how countries implement such recommendations as effective conservation tools. The Ramsar Convention is the oldest international treaty for wetland and waterbird conservation, establishing the world’s largest network of protected areas. However, since it does not constitute any binding measure, its effectiveness in protecting wintering waterbird populations at an international scale has been questioned.
In this study, a long-term count data (1991‒2012) were used to assess the effectiveness of the Ramsar Convention in the Mediterranean Basin. The abundance and temporal trends of 114 waterbird species between 251 Ramsar wetlands and 3,486 non-Ramsar wetlands were compared. The results show that the Ramsar network is critical for wintering waterbirds, concentrating nearly half of all waterbirds counted in the Mediterranean Basin in only 7% of monitored wetlands. Waterbird trends followed a northwest-southeast gradient, with a population decrease in the East. A significant and positive Ramsar effect on population trends was only found for the species of higher conservation concern in the Maghreb, particularly when a management plan was implemented. The Ramsar Convention was previously used on very important wetlands for waterbirds in Southern Europe, but is now an underused conservation tool.
This study suggests weaknesses in the use of Ramsar as an effective conservation tool in most of the Mediterranean Basin. However, the Ramsar Convention effectiveness to enhance waterbird populations in the Maghreb should encourage strengthening the Ramsar Convention. It should be done particularly in countries with limited environmental agreements and by systematic implementation of management plans.
E. Gaget, I. Le Viol, D. Pavón-Jordán, V. Cazalis, C. Kerbiriou, F. Jiguet, N. Popoff, L. Dami, J.Y. Mondain-Monval, P. Defos du Rau, W.A.I. Abdou, L. Bozic, M. Dakki, V.M.F. Encarnação, K. Erciyas-Yavuz, K.S. Etayeb, B. Molina, N. Petkov, D. Uzunova, M. Zenatello and T. Galewski. 2020. Assessing the effectiveness of the Ramsar Convention in preserving wintering waterbirds in the Mediterranean Biological Conservation. 243 (online February 2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108485
Tour du Valat
Tour du Valat is a research institute for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands created more than 65 years ago by Luc Hoffmann. It has developed its research activities for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands with the constant desire to reconcile man and nature. Convinced that it will only be possible to preserve wetlands if human activities and the protection of the natural heritage can be reconciled, Tour du Valat has for many years been developing programmes of research and integrated management that favour interchanges between wetland users and scientists, and promote wetland benefits to decision makers and socio-economic actors. www.tourduvalat.org
Coordinated in France by the French Bird Protection League (LPO) on behalf of Wetlands International at the international level, this census was first made in 1967 for ducks, geese, and swans (Anatidae) as well as coots, and then extended to include a larger number of species. It enables the status and trends of waterbird populations on the five continents to be assessed each year in a participative operation.
This census is always conducted around mid-January, the period during which the majority of waterbirds from the northern hemisphere are at their wintering sites, where their concentration facilitates the counting operation.
In France, by mid-January 2019, over 1,500 volunteer bird counters participated in the waterbird census in more than 500 wetlands throughout the country.
A total of 2,704,291 waterbirds were counted in this latest edition of the Wetlands International censuses in metropolitan France.
Over the long term (1967-2019), the number of waterbirds censed on French territory shows an overall positive trend (for 68% of species, stable for 13%), which nevertheless seems to be slowing down. Over the last ten years, 31% of species are increasing, 27% are stable and 20% are declining.
2019 is a record year for the Ardeidae, the Eurasian Spoonbill and the White Stork, whose populations are constantly increasing. Conversely, the recorded numbers of Sanderlings, Red Knot and RuddyTurnstone have been particularly low.