Britain leads efforts to protect threatened migratory birds

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The Independent Online

Britain is to spearhead an international effort to protect migratory birds of prey in Europe, Africa and Asia after a study showed at least half of them are exposed to serious threats ranging from habitat loss to deliberate persecution and poisoning.

In Scotland today, the Government will host a meeting of specialists from 60 countries who are charged with the task of devising cross-border measures that nations can adopt to help the survival of migratory eagles, falcons, harriers, kites, buzzards and osprey.

In 2005, an independent study found that more than 50 per cent of raptors that are likely to be covered by such an international conservation agreement were already threatened either at the global or regional level. Some species were already showing rapid decline.

The experts, meeting at Loch Lomond, will decide on the geographical boundaries of any agreement, the species to be covered and whether or not the proposals should be legally binding. The agreement is due to finalised next year at a meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

As top predators, birds of prey are highly sensitive to environmental degradation due to such things as habitat loss, pollution and climate change. They are also vulnerable to man-made hazards such as electrocution from power lines and illegal poisoning by gamekeepers.

Michael Russell, the minister for environment in Scotland, said migratory osprey, marsh harriers and long and short-eared owls are all at risk north of the border. "Sadly, though, there are a number of individuals in this country who still feel it is acceptable to persecute and poison these magnificent birds," Mr Russell said.

"Scotland is home to the majority of raptors within the UK and I look forward to the development of a new international agreement aimed at conserving migratory birds of prey and owls in Africa and Eurasia," he said.

Joan Ruddock, the biodiversity minister, said she has pledged £10,000 towards the cost of practical conservation work is necessary for an agreement to be reached. "The agreement would address the future problems that climate change will bring to these migratory birds, and has the potential to contribute to our objectives of halting the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010," Ms Ruddock said.

Professor Colin Galbraith of the Scottish Heritage, who will be the chairman of today's meeting, said: "Migratory birds of prey include some of the most threatened species worldwide and their populations are excellent indicators of the state of the wider environment."