The British Birdwatching Fair (Birdfair) on Friday 23rd February 2018 proudly presented BirdLife International with a cheque for £333,000 – the second highest total in the history of the Birdfair – for their ‘Saving paradise in the Pacific’ programme from 2017, which aims to clear the French Polynesian island of Rapa Iti – one of the remotest islands in the world – of invasive predators.

Since 1989, Birdfair has raised an amazing £4,690,000, for vital conservation projects around the world suggested and managed by BirdLife International.

Birdfair Cheque Presentation Feb 2018Photo: Tim Appleton MBE – Co-founder and Manager of Birdfair, Carole Allen – Birdfair Office Organiser, Patricia Zurita – Chief Executive BirdLife International, Dieter Hoffman – Head of RSPB International Strategy and Simon Bentley – Director of The Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust. Photo: Credit Newton Maxwell-Harris

During their annual cheque presentation ceremony, Birdfair announced that the proceeds from this year’s event will support the creation of Argentina’s largest National Park, protecting a threatened natural refuge for nearly a million flamingos and shorebirds. Titled ‘Mar Chiquita: a haven for Argentina’s flamingos’, this year’s cause is a suitably ambitious way to mark 30 years of Birdfair supporting BirdLife International conservation projects.

The creation of the proposed Ansenuza National Park, will protect up to 800,000 hectares of Mar Chiquita (‘little sea’) – South America’s second-largest waterbody, and the fifth largest salt lake in the world. Spanning five miles (70km) by 15 miles (24km), an area the size of Leicestershire, this vast wetland is a literal oasis in the heartland of Argentina, in the Cordoba Province. Its waters, marshy fringes and surrounding grasslands positively thronging with wildlife.

Ansenuza National Park
Andean Flamingos Photo credit: Pablo Rodríguez 

“I am delighted that Birdfair will be supporting the Argentina National Parks services in creating the largest National Park in the country and safeguarding a critical habitat for both resident and migratory birds” says Tim Appleton MBE, Co-Founder & Birdfair Manager.

Mar Chiquita’s most eye-catching visitors are the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that winter there. All three South American flamingo species can be found in abundance, including the Globally Threatened Puna Flamingo Phoenicoparrus jamesi. But the area is also home to an impressive spread of biodiversity, from the Maned Wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus (Near Threatened) – which resembles a fox on stilts – to the Crowned Solitary Eagles Buteogallus coronatus (Endangered), who roam over the surrounding dry, quebracho-stippled Chaco forest.

Mar Chiquita: a haven for Argentina’s flamingosChilean Flamingos Photo credit: Pablo Rodríguez 

In recognition of its importance, Mar Chiquita drips with official designations – it is a Ramsar site, an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA), a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve and a provincial reserve. But despite this, Mar Chiquita Lake is shrinking. Water is being extracted at an unsustainable rate and the lake is in very real danger of drying up.

This threat has spurred Aves Argentinas (BirdLife’s national Partner) into taking action; raising environmental awareness, improving management of the site and clarifying issues of land ownership. But it is an uphill struggle. Further pressures, such as pollution, agricultural intensification, deforestation and unregulated tourism are hastening this vital wetlands’ demise.

In order to effectively combat these threats, Aves Argentinas has been instrumental in advocating for Mar Chiquita to become a National Park – offering the highest protection available within Argentina. “Being managed at the national rather than regional level guarantees greater protection” says Malena Srur, Aves Argentinas. Previously, Aves Argentinas played a key role in the formation of Patagonia National Park, providing shelter for one of the world’s most threatened birds, the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi (Critically Endangered).

The proceeds from this year’s Birdfair will bolster Aves Argentinas’ existing conservation strategy, which is based around community engagement – participatory planning, empowering local stakeholders and establishing a network of local conservation guardians.

Moreover, strengthening the local economy through nature-based tourism is fundamental to the project’s long-term success. “A vibrant ecotourism circuit at Mar Chiquita will lengthen the tourist season and generate sustainable livelihoods over a wider area. Local communities will become strongly committed to the area’s long-term conservation” says Srur.

The British Birdwatching Fair, aka Birdfair, is jointly organised by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. It takes place every summer at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, a huge water storage reservoir owned by Anglian Water. Dubbed the “Birdwatcher’s Glastonbury”, the fair hosts over 24,000 visitors and 450 exhibitors ever year, from all over the world.

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation partnership and a leader in bird conservation, consisting of 121 BirdLife Partners worldwide – one per country or territory – and growing. Through its unique local to global approach BirdLife delivers high impact and long term conservation for the benefit of nature and people.

Aves Argentinas’ mission is the conservation of wild birds and their habitats. Now 100 years old, it has 3,000 members. Its vision is to increase awareness about the importance of biodiversity conservation through advocacy, education, publicity and research, with special attention to birds which, as environmental indicators, help to improve our quality of life. Aves Argentinas is the BirdLife Partner in Argentina.

Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs):