Page last updated at 00:35 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 01:35 UK

Bid to protect wild bird hot spot

Sociable Lapwing
The sociable lapwing is a critically endangered species

The survival of two of the world's rarest birds could be improved with the creation of reserves in Syria, according to a Scottish-based expert.

Martin Scott was one of four RSPB Scotland staff to recently visit the Middle Eastern country.

They are now preparing reports on how species such as the critically endangered sociable lapwing and bald ibis can be given greater protection.

Swallows and cuckoos, migratory birds seen in the UK, pass through Syria.

The team - Hywel Maggs, Graham Rebecca and John Wills from Aberdeenshire and Mr Scott from Lewis - hope key areas of desert and woodland habitat can be protected for the birds.

Mr Scott said: "Syria is almost untouched, but the population is growing and more and more areas are being turned over to agriculture.

"There is a lot of forestry being felled and people we spoke to said changes to the land have happened rapidly over the last few years."

The four are writing reports for the Syrian authorities and ideas include national parks based on boundaries sketched on maps by the various team members.

Northern bald ibis, which was revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs and once widespread in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, are clinging to survival in Syria and Morocco.

It was like a conveyor belt of eagles flying over the top of us
Martin Scott
RSPB Scotland

Sociable lapwings have also suffered dramatic declines, mainly because of hunting. The Scottish team saw about 60 on their trip.

Mr Scott said the sight of hundreds of steppe eagles flying overhead highlighted the country's importance to species that make long distance journeys to breed and overwinter.

He said: "There were 1,200 of the sea eagle-size birds. It was like a conveyor belt of eagles flying over the top of us."

However, for the Western Isles based RSPB officer, one of the high points of the visit was spotting two wolves.

The mammals have becoming an increasingly rare sight in Syria.

The team worked with local people and government officials, in a partnership which brought together the RSPB, the Syrian Ministry of the Environment and the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife.

The project was being carried out through the Darwin Initiative, which assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources.

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