RSPB – Conservation Project Leaders

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RSPB first started a research and conservation project at the Sociable Lapwing’s breeding grounds in Kazakhstan back in 2005. From the outset our objectives have been to establish the cause of the catastrophic decline in Sociable Lapwing numbers and to devise a strategy for the species’ long term conservation.

The initial focus of our work was on the breeding grounds in close cooperation with The Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK). Every year since then we have been monitoring breeding birds with ACBK at various sites throughout the vast expanse of the Kazakhstan steppes.

Over the past five years and with the primary support of the British Government’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), through a Darwin Initiative Grant, we have developed and evolved our work to achieve some notable conservation successes.

During the project we have:

  • gained much valuable information on the species’ distribution, breeding behaviour, biology and habitat use.
  • discovered new colonies and monitored their success.
  • established the Sociable Lapwing’s westerly migration route and wintering grounds using pioneering satellite tracking.
  • collaborated on the development of an official Species Action Plan in conjunction with the Africa-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement (AEWA).
  • established a monitoring programme with our conservation partners in countries throughout the Sociable Lapwing’s flyway.
  • discovered key insights into the real causes of the birds decline.
  • instigated a strategy and put actions in place to address threats to the birds.
  • built conservation capacity and trained researchers in several countries.
  • secured vital funding from multiple sources to resource ongoing conservation for the species.

In August 2008 we joined forces with leading optical manufacturer Swarovski Optik and jointly became BirdLife Species Champions for the Sociable Lapwing in support of The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. Species Champions provide funding and raise awareness for globally threatened birds and through The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme we are able to raise greater awareness for our work and raise more funds which is helping to advance our conservation project further.

In March 2009 RSPB played a leading role in a Sociable Lapwing conservation workshop in conjunction with AEWA bringing conservation partners and government environmental officers together from all of the range states the Sociable Lapwing passes through on its known migration routes. The workshop, sponsored by Swarovski Optik, considered new information on threats to the species, secured support from all parties to significantly increase conservation efforts for  the Sociable Lapwing and consolidated an action plan now incorporated as an update to the official Species Action Plan. In addition the workshop provided an opportunity for Swarovski Optik to donate and distribute high quality binoculars and telescopes to each of the partners to aid their monitoring work in the field.

Following the success of our previous satellite telemetry studies we have now fitted new satellite tags to eight more Sociable Lapwings in May 2010 in order to boost our ability to track, monitor and protecting migrating birds. You can see a video of us doing that here.

While we can’t predict quite what we’ll discover along the way, the migrations these birds will be undertaking is bound to hold some surprises. We hope you’ll be here along side us and the birds as they head off on their Amazing Journey.

Back in October 2007 our partners Doga Dernegi (BirdLife in Turkey) discovered the largest flock of Sociable Lapwings ever recorded, leading to a revision in our estimate of the species’ total population. Coordinates we provided led DD to a flock of 3200 birds! Later that year we tracked the birds further south anticipating they might winter in the Middle East. But they kept going. Eventually two birds were located as far south as the Sudan! For the first time we learned where Sociable Lapwings were wintering.

We know from field sightings that small numbers of Sociable Lapwings have also been wintering in India and Pakistan yet no one yet knows where these birds breed or the route they take to get there. With luck our new study will help solve that puzzle too as now some of the new tags have been fitted to birds from a breeding colony in eastern Kazakhstan which might lead to us unlocking the mystery of the Sociable Lapwing’s Eastern flyway.

Through the Amazing Journey website you can now join us gathering new information on the birds movements as we follow the birds during their next three migrations.

We hope you’ll come with us on these voyages of discovery. Why not bookmark this site and come back regularly to see how our birds are progressing as their Amazing Journey unfolds.

Dr. Rob Sheldon – RSPB Sociable Lapwing Project Leader and Head of Reserves Ecology Scotland