Record low Danube levels lead to reduction of bird populations



Posted on 05 July 2011  | 
Sofia, Bulgaria – A one week expedition under the patronage of WWF exploring bird populations along the Bulgarian and Romanian stretch of the Danube has discovered a drastic reduction of bird populations due to the unprecedented low level of the river. The scientists counted 3145 pairs of nesting birds - herons, cormorants, spoonbils and ibises - 500 pairs down from last year. This is the lowest number compared to the birds counted in 2006 and 2010 when WWF carried out similar censuses.

The numbers of squacco heron, night heron and little egret have been affected most seriously, since their feeding grounds – wetlands along the Lower Danube – have gone dry. The numbers of cormorants, grey herons and spoonbils are up. Special attention was given to the colonies of pigmy cormorant and the ferruginous duck, threatened species that inhabit the common section of the Danube in Bulgaria and Romania.

“When the river levels are so low, water does not penetrate the wetland areas and birds have nowhere to nest”, said Ivan Hristov, Freshwater Coordinator at the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme. “If this is accidental, then this will not be a problem in the long run. However, if the level of the river is going down long term, then we are facing serious consequences”, Hristov said.

The census was carried out by one team of biologists travelling on water and two teams travelling on the ground. 15 experts took part in the expedition, including WWF biologists and scientists working for the Bulgarian Academy of Science and the Romanian Ornithological Society. The teams travelled from Srebarna Nature Reserve next to Silistra on the Bulgarian-Romanian border to Vidin on the Bulgarian-Serbian border.

“The checks carried out by the scientists provide vital data for long term conservation measures along the Lower Danube”, Hristov said. “The findings of the expedition once again prove that rivers and wildlife do not respect political borders and a common cross-border approach is necessary”, he added.

In 2000 WWF was instrumental in establishing the Lower Danube Green Corridor, an initiative supported by the Bulgarian, Romanian, Moldovan and Ukrainian governments. The Lower Danube Green Corridor Declaration commit the four countries to preserve a total of 935,000 ha, including enhanced protection for 775,000 ha of existing protected areas, and new protection for another 160,000 ha, and to restore 224,000 ha of former wetland areas.

The current expedition in effect provides quality monitoring of the areas protected under the agreement.

This expedition is part of the Green Borders project financed by LIFE, the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU.
15 experts took part in the expedition, including WWF biologists and scientists working for the Bulgarian Academy of Science and the Romanian Ornithological Society.
15 experts took part in the expedition, including WWF biologists and scientists working for the Bulgarian Academy of Science and the Romanian Ornithological Society.
© Milen Enchev Enlarge
Common Tern chick, Bulgaria.
Common Tern chick, Bulgaria.
© Milen Enchev Enlarge

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