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Education News

All Souls: Green Channel

There is a quiet revolution going on. Bird-watching is becoming trendy - especially on holiday.

Seeing pink flamingos in Kenya, grey-sided laughing thrushes in Nepal, or honey buzzards in France has a rather better image than lurking with anorak and Thermos waiting for a rarity on the north Norfolk coast.

The problem is, just as it's becoming acceptable to come out of the bird hide, the birds are disappearing. According to the RSPB and Birdlife International, bird numbers have declined dramatically across Europe and 195 species are in trouble. One way of counteracting this is to go with a tour operator who is involved with conserving birdlife. Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays, for instance, which runs tours to the Spanish Pyrenees, donates pounds 25 per customer to a local ornithological conservation programme that is involved with saving the Spanish Steppes - one of the most seriously threatened bird habitats in Europe.

The problem is not just a European one. World-wide, birds are struggling because of declining habitats following the loss of tropical forests, and drainage of wetlands for agriculture and construction.

Ironically, the development of tourism is often a big part of the problem. Eilat in Israel is a top draw for international bird-watchers, attracting more than 30,000 tourists a year who come to see massive concentrations of the birds that stop off there on their migration route - bluethroats from Russia, lesser whitethroats from England, little stints from the Arctic Circle, among others.

But hotels and lagoons have been carved out of the once-extensive salt marsh and large areas have been converted to farming to serve the growing local and visitor population. The consequence? Destruction of the very habitat that supports the birds - particularly the fruit and flowers that provide them with vital protein after their 2,000-km flight across the desert.