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The concept of the world’s critically endangered species will be familiar to most birders. These Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in Danger are the world’s critically endangered sites.

How are we to conserve wildlife effectively with limited resources? Prioritisation of important locations for conservation is a crucial first step. Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are the sites of international significance for the conservation of the world’s birds and other nature. However, some of these sites are under the most immediate threat from damage or destruction and need our urgent attention. These are the IBAs in Danger.

For several decades now BirdLife International has acted as the global authority to maintain the Red List of Birds. Since 2013, it has also published the list of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in Danger; these are the most threatened sites, identified by BirdLife Partners. The new, updated 2017 list has 338 IBAs in Danger in more than 100 countries, including ten in Spain.

The Guadalquivir Marshes, at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir and encompassing the Doñana National Park, are one of the largest wetlands in Europe. In the north and east, natural vegetation has been replaced by rice cultivation, irrigated cultivation, aquaculture, and saltpans, although there are still expanses of halophytic scrub. Marshes, Mediterranean scrub, woodland, and sand dunes occur to the south. The marshes are flooded only seasonally, as are some permanent rivers and lagoons. The principal human activities include arable agriculture, cattle grazing, hunting, fishing, fish farming, and tourism.

The Marshes are the most important wetland in Spain for breeding, passage, and wintering waterbirds and passerines. Over 360 species have been recorded here. Wintering waterbird numbers amount to 400,000 individuals, climbing to over six million birds during migration periods. The site is a major migratory bottleneck, through which more than 20,000 storks and raptors regularly pass. Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca winter but, despite being a species of global conservation concern, does not meet IBA criteria.

There are numerous threats and problems. Perhaps the most important of these relate to the expansion and intensification of agriculture, particularly the uncontrolled use of pesticides and over-exploitation of groundwater. Other threats include a high poaching pressure, intensive crayfish fishing, an increase in fish farming, industrial pollution with heavy metals (which caused a major ecological disaster in 1998), urban development, uncontrolled tourism and hunting, and road construction. There is a research station, a water management plan, and a sustainable development plan.

Photo Credit:  Balearic Shearwater, Menorca Walking Birds

The Straits of Gibraltar has been identified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area in Danger because there are numerous threats to the hundreds of thousands of seabirds that use it every year to pass between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, including large numbers of Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea, Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, Northern Gannet Morus bassanus, Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii, Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis and Great Skua Catharacta skua. These include industrial marine and freshwater aquaculture, recreational and work activities, industrial and military effluents (including oil spills), shipping lanes, as well as oil and gas drilling within four years.

The Ebro Delta in Catalonia is a large delta on the east coast of Spain, south of Barcelona, and forms a complex of shallow brackish lagoons, salt marshes, salt lakes, and sand beaches with dunes. The site includes approximately 1,500 ha of rice cultivation and other human activities include hunting, fishing, reed harvesting, arable cultivation, and livestock farming. One of the most important sites in the Mediterranean for breeding, passage, and wintering birds, 27,000 pairs of breeding waterbirds gather in the summer and up to 180,000 birds winter. The site holds more than 60% of the world population of Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii.

The delta is poorly protected outside Natural Park and suffers from many competing interests for using the land. Threats include increasing urban development, disturbance of waterbird colonies by tourists, high hunting pressure and lead poisoning of birds from spent shot, pollution from chemicals used in rice production, and a decline in sedimentation rates because of dams along the River Ebro. Bird monitoring is carried out by the regional government.

Photo credit: Wild Doñana

The sea platform of the delta, Columbretes, has been upgraded to an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area in Danger due to the wide number of seabirds now threatened here. Breeding species include Cory’s Shearwater, Audouin’s Gull, Little Tern Sternula albifrons, Common Tern Sterna hirundo, and Sandwich Tern. Balearic Shearwater and Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus winter, whilst European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis and Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei are resident. European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus are non-breeders but a trigger species nonetheless. Pressures to the site include fishing and harvesting aquatic resources including persecution and control, renewable energy, recreational activities, ecosystem modifications, oil spills, and shipping lanes.

L’Albufera is a freshwater coastal lagoon on the Gulf of València with abundant emergent vegetation and several islands, as well as a coastal Pinus woodland. The area also includes 14,000 ha of rice cultivation. This is a very important site for breeding and wintering waterbirds, but pollution from agricultural, urban, and industrial sources is a serious problem. Other threats include illegal drainage of rice cultivation, high levels of hunting, urban, and tourism development.

The Famara crag on Lanzarote consists of high sea cliffs with accumulations of landslide and erosion debris at the base of many sectors. The cliffs support drought-tolerant vegetation. Human activities include fishing and tourism, as well as a designated military zone. The site is important for breeding seabirds and raptors. The main threats are posed by urbanisation, electricity powerlines, the disturbance caused to birds such as Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides by recreation and tourism, as well as illegal hunting.

Introduced rats Rattus and Feral Cats Felis catus also pose problems for breeding birds. The area is a game refuge and only European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus can be hunted. The local government ran several marine bird conservation campaigns between 1992 and 1996.

Photo credit: Wild Doñana

Los Rodeos near La Esperanza is an area of grassland, scrub, and agricultural land located in northeast Tenerife, bordered by a residential area and the airport. It is the only site for Lesser Short-toed Lark Alaudala rufescens in the Canaries and the best area on Tenerife for grassland species. The site is also a wintering and stopover site for herons, waders, and passerines and a feeding site for species that breed nearby (mainly raptors and passerines). Plans exist for the construction of an industrial area and a road that will traverse the site. Additional threats are posed by illegal hunting and bird strikes on nearby roads. Monitoring of Lesser Short-toed Lark is undertaken by local ornithologists.

Gallocanta in Aragon is a large brackish lake with marsh vegetation in some places and many islets. The surrounding area is dominated by cereal fields. The most important passage site for Common Crane Grus grus in Europe, it is also a major migratory bottleneck, where more than 20,000 cranes regularly pass in spring and autumn. It is also a very important site for wintering wildfowl and for breeding steppe birds. The main threats come from the over-abstraction of water for agriculture and the increasing disturbance from visitors, particularly the cranes.

Photo credit: Birding Extremadura

Aldea del Cano is an area of undulating plains dissected by steep-sided rivers between Cáceres and Trujillo in Extremadura. The main vegetation types are dry grassland, garrigue, arable cultivation, and patches of dehesa. The main human activities include livestock farming, arable agriculture, and game hunting. This is an important site for steppe bird conservation, as well as passage Black Stork Ciconia nigra and wintering Common Crane. Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti is resident and a species of conservation concern globally but does not meet IBA criteria. The main threats are from agricultural intensification and urbanisation. A management plan exists.

The north and east coasts of Minorca, as well as the island of Aire, include limestone, the Es Grao marshes, and a coastal lagoon. The vegetation is mainly garrigue and maquis with Holm Oak Quercus ilex and Aleppo Pine Pinus halepensis forest. This is an important area for seabirds and coastal raptors. Threats include mass tourism, development, poisoning (particularly of Red Kite Milvus milvus), and the erection of new powerlines. A reduction in the European Rabbit population has reduced prey availability for raptors. Nine Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis colonies are culled annually. The IBA overlaps with six Natural Areas of Special Interest.

Birds provide a practical focus for conservation areas. They have been shown to be effective indicators of biodiversity in other animal groups and plants – especially when used to define a set of sites for conservation. So, although the IBA network is defined by its bird fauna, the conservation of these sites ensures the survival of a correspondingly large number of other animals and plants.

BirdLife International is working hard with its Partners to respond to the growing threats faced by IBAs through campaigns to raise public awareness. It has also helped Partners to develop effective site safeguard measures. During recent years, BirdLife Partners have been active at 232 IBAs in Danger, carrying out a diverse range of activities at the local and national level. Through the Partners, BirdLife works with an estimated 2,500 voluntary Local Conservation Groups around the globe to monitor and care for ‘their’ IBAs.

Blue Sky Wildlife is a BirdLife Species Champion supporting BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, offering a unique collection of wildlife tours and responsible ecotourism holidays from over 40 destinations worldwide.

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Originally Published: 22 Apr 2019
Balearic Shearwaters

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