The Wadden Sea is proving to be a weak link in the East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird route from the Arctic region down the coasts of Europe and Africa to South Africa. Bird counts have revealed that the more dependent a migratory bird population is on the Wadden Sea, the less successful conservation of the species tends to be. Migratory birds breeding in the Wadden Sea are particularly vulnerable, although some fish-eating species are actually faring better in recent years.
These data were revealed by a census of migratory birds conducted in 2014 on the East Atlantic Flyway. This is the first time that birds have been counted along the entire flyway as part of a single study.
Unique population census
In the 2014 census, some 1,500 birders in 30 countries counted almost 15 million individual birds. This unique census was the first simultaneous count of birds at such a huge scale. The data of this integrated census were compared with all the individual surveys that had taken place since 1980. Following a year of research, the analysis of all these data has just been completed.
It has been known for some time that a number of migrating Wadden Sea bird species are not doing well. However, this latest research reveals that the Wadden Sea is also scoring poorly within the international context of the East Atlantic Flyway. Migratory birds only spend a part of the year in the Wadden Sea region, spending the rest of the year in countries beyond this region, such as in Africa, or in Scandinavia and the Arctic. The researchers have discovered that in many cases, the stronger the ties (feeding, resting, breeding, etc.) of a species to the Wadden Sea, the less successful the species is likely to be. Examples are the Eurasian oystercatcher and the pied avocet.
The study did not answer the question of why the birds in the Wadden Sea region are doing so poorly, but based on the results of earlier studies, the researchers think it is likely that local factors, such as predation, flooding in breeding areas and depletion of food sources play an important role.
In the framework of the WSFI monitoring activities along the East Atlantic Flyway also a strategy on waterbird and site monitoring and a framework and programme outline for integrated monitoring of Wadden Sea and other migratory have been published.
This research was commissioned by the Wadden Sea improvement programme Programma naar een Rijke Waddenzee (PRW) as part of the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative (WSFI). The WSFI is a partnership involving a wide range of stakeholders, in the three countries bordering the Wadden Sea and throughout the further regions covered by the flyway. Partners include the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), Wetlands International and nearly 30 other local, regional and international partners. The WSFI is coordinated by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat.