WWT’s monitoring team supports the global waterbird monitoring effort in a number of complimentary ways – by organising and undertaking surveys, particularly for otherwise poorly monitored species, by supporting the assessment of conservation status, and by transferring skills to organisations working in other regions rich in waterbirds.
Since its inception, WWT has been at the forefront of waterbird monitoring, both in the UK and internationally (further information on the development of counting in the UK can be found here). In this time, it has developed a comprehensive, flyway-based Integrated Waterbird Monitoring Programme in collaboration with partner organisations and individuals from across these flyways. The results help to deliver conservation action at both national and international scales.
Effective biodiversity conservation requires sound assessments of the status of species to be made. Such assessments facilitate effective priority setting and subsequent appraisal of conservation action. These assessments range from global extinction probability (the IUCN Red List) to national and regional assessments of conservation priority, such as the UK’s Birds of Conservation Concern.
The need for such information and assessment is widely recognised by conservation agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. A range of criteria are used to assess conservation status, the most important of which are abundance and distribution/range size, and the trend of each of these (in other words whether it is increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable). It is therefore important to make accurate and regular assessments of these parameters in order that the resulting assessment of conservation status is as accurate as possible.
To explain changes in abundance and distribution, it is also beneficial to measure its key components, namely productivity (annual reproductive success) and survival (or mortality) rates; in other words the births and deaths. This provides an understanding of which factor (births or deaths) is having the greatest effect on population size, which helps us to more effectively target conservation actions. Also, by measuring these demographic parameters we may be able to detect changes likely to lead to a reduction in abundance before this actually takes place, giving advance warning of potential problems and an opportunity to put conservation measures in place before declines become more serious. This is particularly true for long-lived species, which includes many waterbirds.
WWT’s Waterbird Monitoring Programme is an integrated suite of projects that aims to monitor the numbers, breeding success, survival, distribution, and migration of important waterbird populations. We focus our efforts on species present in the UK for part of their annual cycle, but we also use the skills we have developed from more than 60 years involvement in waterbird monitoring to help develop similar work elsewhere. Monitoring all species in this amount of detail is impossible given current resourcing, so in the UK we focus on species not well monitored by larger broad-ranging surveys (such as WeBS) where we can add greatest value, including most geese and swans, and seaducks. Elsewhere, we focus on globally important waterbird regions with currently limited monitoring schemes. We also support a range of larger initiatives, particularly the UK’s Wetland Bird Survey and the International Waterbird Census, through the provision of specialist support.
The aim is to ensure that sound conservation assessments can be made for as many species as possible, and that baseline demographic data are available for a representative suite of these species in order to provide a basis for further research into the causes of decline. Most of these monitoring schemes are large collaborative efforts between governments, NGOs, and networks of volunteers. Without the commitment of volunteer fieldworkers, our understanding of waterbirds and their conservation status would be far poorer, and our ability to effectively conserve them would also be much reduced. The continued support of volunteer fieldworkers, both past and present, is therefore very much appreciated and valued at WWT whether you are working on WWT monitoring projects or those overseen by other organisations.