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Last Updated: Monday, 8 March, 2004, 02:20 GMT
Many threatened birds 'need help'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Black-faced spoonbill   Martin Hale
The black-faced spoonbill has been hit by disease (Image: Martin Hale)
A third of the world's most threatened bird species still need urgent action in order to survive, campaigners say.

BirdLife International and the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds say 400 species still need help, which is often fairly simple to give.

Many species already receiving help are responding, showing that assistance over time can stop them disappearing.

The two groups say birds are very good at revealing the health of the wider environment and show it is in trouble.

Widespread threat

The warning comes in a report, State Of The World's Birds 2004, produced by BirdLife, a global partnership of almost 100 conservation groups. The RSPB is its British partner.

Birds are excellent environment indicators, and what they are telling us is that there is a fundamental malaise in the way we treat our environment
Dr Leon Bennum, BirdLife
The report is being released at a conference of BirdLife partners in the South African city of Durban.

According to IUCN-The World Conservation Union, 1,211 bird species are globally threatened, an eighth of the world's avian species.

The report says 24% of these have begun to gain from action to help them, with the benefit to 4% regarded as significant.

It says this shows how acting in time on the basis of good science "can reverse the slide to extinction".

Wattled crane   Marco Lambertini/BirdLife
Wattled crane: Magnificent, and in peril (Image: Marco Lambertini/BirdLife)
BirdLife's director, Dr Michael Rands, said: "State Of The World's Birds presents firm evidence that we are losing birds and other biodiversity at an alarming and ever-increasing rate.

"The BirdLife Partnership is directly helping to implement actions for 42% of globally threatened birds, but we need support from others, particularly national governments, both in terms of financial help and in establishing and maintaining protected areas."

That still leaves about 400 threatened species without any help at all, something which worries BirdLife.

Dr Leon Bennum, State Of The World's Birds' senior editor, said: "Global biodiversity is declining, but accurate measures are hard to come by.

Success stories

"The report shows that birds are excellent environment indicators and what they are telling us is that there is a fundamental malaise in the way we treat our environment."

Short-tailed albatross   Yu Yat Tung
Short-tailed albatross: On the way back (Image: Yu Yat Tung)
The report includes many case studies of conservation approaches that work. One has helped the short-tailed albatross, thought extinct until its rediscovery off Japan half a century ago.

Habitat management and steps to reduce the bycatch of seabirds by fishing fleets have helped it to increase to about 1,200 pairs.

On the Pacific island state of Vanuatu a chicken-like bird found nowhere else, the Vanuatu megapode, was threatened by over-harvesting of its eggs.

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But a local theatre troupe, Wan Smol Bag, has alerted people to the problem, and there is now a moratorium on egg collection for four months of the year in some areas, and a complete five-year ban elsewhere to allow the bird to recover.

In contrast, the report says, it is vital to protect the remaining lowland rainforest on the island of Sao Tome off West Africa, but this has not been done.

So four species remain at risk - the dwarf olive ibis, maroon pigeon, Sao Tome scops owl and Sao Tome oriole.

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