Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Monday, 2 March 2009

Scots bird team on Syrian mission

Sociable lapwing
The sociable lapwing is one of the bird the team hopes to locate

Four Scottish conservationists are heading to Syria to search for the critically endangered sociable lapwing and bald ibis.

The RSPB team will be looking for the two species in the arid deserts of Syria while promoting conservation.

They team is made up of Hywel Maggs, Graham Rebecca and John Wills from Aberdeenshire and Martin Scott from the Isle of Lewis.

Only two pairs of bald ibis are known in the Middle East, both in Syria.

They have been satellite tagged and it is thought they will return to their nesting ledges in central Syria in early March.

The sociable lapwing is a species that has declined sharply in recent years. It breeds in Kazakhstan and migrates south in winter to Sudan.

It is a vast country, but not enough is known about it's stunning birdlife
Martin Scott
RSPB Scotland

Recently, satellite tracking has shown the northern Syrian steppes are a critical stop-over area for these birds on migration and it is hoped the Scottish team will be able to locate groups in the north eastern deserts.

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

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

'Real privilege'

Mr Scott, RSPB Scotland's western isles officer, said: "All four of us are very excited. Syria looks to have some breathtaking habitats, from the lush Euphrates Valley to the dry steppes and stony deserts of the north.

"We hope to see lots of amazing birds, but more importantly pass on our knowledge and expertise to a nation that hosts some critical areas for wildlife.

"This is a key international project. Work has been undertaken in Kazakhstan, Sudan and India on sociable lapwings, now it is Syria's turn to be in the limelight.

"It is a vast country, but not enough is known about its stunning birdlife. From correspondence, the Syrians are clearly passionate about their wealth of wildlife, and we hope to help them in any way we can.

"Being able to survey in such a country is a real privilege."

Areas have already been earmarked under the international designation of IBA - Important Bird Areas.

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