January 2016 sees the International Waterbird Census (IWC) enter its 50th year, making it one of the longest running waterbird monitoring schemes in the world. The IWC was launched in 1967 and has grown to cover over 25,000 sites in over 140 countries across the globe, with 30-40 million waterbirds counted every year.
To date, the IWC has supported the identification of almost five million km2 of internationally important areas for waterbirds worldwide, including nearly one million km2 of Ramsar Sites. Data from the census also contribute to the regular assessment of almost 900 waterbird species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Wetland International’s Waterbird Population Estimates. The IWC data are a vital component of these assessments, which help detect changes in population status and direct and prioritise conservation action at both the site and flyway level.
The 50th anniversary is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the magnificent achievements of the thousands of people who make the IWC possible, including all the agencies, organisations and individuals who give their time and support to the scheme. The success of the IWC is underpinned by the enormous effort of a vast network of coordinators and counters, many of which are volunteers, who give their valuable time to carry out waterbird counts. Many counters may not even be aware that they are contributing to counts on an international scale as, essentially, data are collected through separate national schemes, which in the UK includes the WWT/JNCC/SNH Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP) and the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS).
To celebrate the 50th IWC count, Wetlands International has launched a year-long global campaign ‘Let’s make it count‘ aimed to inspire and promote action for the conservation of wetlands along the world’s flyways. The campaign is designed for anyone to get involved, from individuals interested in nature to national coordinators, governments and businesses, and aims to encourage people from around the world to work with Wetlands International and other IWC partners to conserve wetlands for waterbirds.
WWT support the IWC through its continued involvement in waterbird monitoring in the UK, including the management of the GSMP. WWT’s Monitoring Unit, together with WWT Consulting, have also worked in partnership with various international organisations to support and develop waterbird monitoring in priority countries outside of the UK: including the Irish Wetland Bird Survey, the Yangtze Waterbird Monitoring Network and waterbird monitoring in Kuwait. WWT is also proud to support the IWC directly as a partner of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Monitoring Partnership, which oversees the running of the IWC in the region covered by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).
And finally, good luck and happy counting to all those taking part in waterbird counts this weekend – 16/17 January – which will mark the 50th IWC count and a milestone in the history of waterbird monitoring!