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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 00:47 GMT 01:47 UK
Plea to protect east European birds
Eagle and chick in nest   S Danko
On guard: An imperial eagle guards its chick

Rare bird species in 10 central and eastern European countries are at risk because the areas where they live lack protection, ornithologists say.

The warning comes from BirdLife International, which says 94% of rare forest bird sites are unprotected.

Species including storks, eagles, woodpeckers and flycatchers live and breed in the unprotected areas.

BirdLife says the forestry industry and governments share the responsibility of protecting the threatened birds.

The 10 countries are all candidates for membership of the European Union, and are known as the EU accession countries.

They are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Cyprus and Malta, two other accession countries, are not covered by the BirdLife warning, because they lie outside central and eastern Europe (CEE).

Urgent demand

Harri Holtta of Birdlife said: "The CEE EU accession countries contain approximately 4m hectares [9.9m acres] of forest habitat that qualifies as important bird areas.

"This is because of the presence of rare breeding birds. A shocking 94% of these forest areas are unprotected.

Hillside forest laid bare   Pavol Kanuch
Clearcutting in the Slanske Hills
"It is imperative that these forest sites are legally protected in the run-up to EU accession, both for the sake of the birds and other biodiversity that depends on them, and because it is a legal requirement of EU entry."

The 10 countries are crucial to several species. They shelter 42% of Europe's middle-spotted woodpeckers, 61% of its black storks, 62% of the continent's lesser spotted eagles, and 80% of its collared flycatchers.

BirdLife says 141 bird species of high conservation priority are found in forest and woodland habitats in Europe.

Strip-mining the woods

It says the main threats they face in the accession countries include logging and intensified forest management, which can alter the mix of tree species.

Some birds are also vulnerable to human disturbance during their breeding seasons, especially from forestry work.

Owlets in nest   Pavol Kanuch
Young Ural owls in nest, Slovakia
One example is the Slanske Hills important bird area in Slovakia, which has not only black storks and lesser spotted eagles but seven pairs of imperial eagles as well.

BirdLife says this area and 18 similar ones in Slovakia are at risk from clearcut logging and associated road building.

It wants the 10 countries to designate all important bird areas under the EU's Birds Directive.

Shared task

But it says effective conservation must spread beyond the boundaries of formally protected areas and be integrated into the management of all forests.

It says the forestry industry can help by leaving enough old-growth trees, dead wood, bushes and other woodland habitats in place.

It also wants governments to do more to encourage the industry to act, using a mixture of legislation, law enforcement, planning and incentives.

Eagle image courtesy and copyright of S.Danko: all others Pavol Kanuch/BirdLife International

See also:

09 Oct 02 | Europe
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