Lower Danube birds are rearing fewer young, WWF expedition observes
“One year ago the level of the Danube was drastically low, no water entered the wetlands and the birds had nowhere to nest”, said Ivan Hristov, Freshwater Coordinator at the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme. “This year water levels are back to normal in the Middle and Upper Danube, but big dams like the Iron Gates between Serbia and Romania mean that the Lower Danube is not benefiting from the natural dynamic of the river, and the water is not getting to Lower Danube wetlands when birds and fish need it”, he added.
If river levels continue to drop consistently, Danube wetlands will dry out, threatening the nesting of birds and the spawning of fish. Current plans for diking and dredging of the river to aid navigation would also lead to sinking of the ground water and drying out of wetlands.
In terms of bird populations, scientists counted 3250 pairs of nesting birds which is comparable to the numbers counted last year. This is about 15% less than the average for this stretch of the river. The expedition observed a minor decrease in the number of nesting pairs of the endangered Pygmy cormorants, Herons and Ferruginous ducks. At the same time, Cormorant and Spoonbill populations have increased.
“Interestingly, this year most nesting pairs have settled in areas that are under some form of protection. Birds prefer these areas as there they suffer less from disturbances by human activities - tourism, fishing, logging”, Hristov said.
WWF organized similar expeditions in 2006, 2010 and 2011. This year’s 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, scientists working for the Bulgarian Academy of Science and the Romanian Ornithological Society. The teams travelled twice from Srebarna Nature Reserve next to Silistra on the Bulgarian-Romanian border to Vidin on the Bulgarian-Serbian border.
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. The 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.