Declining wader populations – new review gives increasing cause for concern

Gland, Switzerland, 18 June 2004 (IUCN)-The World Conservation Union. The International Wader Study Group, which also acts as the IUCN/SSC Wader Specialist Group, has just published a major review of the status of the migratory wader (shorebird) species in Africa and western Eurasia.


Wader populations are a particular cause for concern, with nearly half the world’s known populations in decline (48%). Accurate and up-to-date information on population trends is vital to identify conservation priorities and help reverse these declines.

This timely review assesses the status of 131 distinct populations of 55 migratory wader species in the region. It updates an assessment of the East Atlantic Flyway undertaken in the 1980s and provides, for the first time, a review of all three principal migratory flyways in Africa and western Eurasia (see map). The review also highlights many worrying trends and will be an important tool for environmental decision-makers, conservationists and researchers.

The report’s main conclusions include:

* 45 of the 131 wader populations assessed are of significant conservation concern because they are in decline and/or very small. Some are declining very rapidly and others are threatened with extinction. Species or populations of particular concern include:
o Sociable Plover (Vanellus gregarius). The world population has collapsed in recent years, from an estimated 20,000-200,000 individuals less than 10 years ago, to a total population of 600-1,800 birds today. Formerly widespread on the Eurasian steppes, from eastern Europe to eastern Kazakhstan, the breeding population is now confined to the steppes between the Volga and Ural rivers. Causes for the decline are largely unknown, but are probably linked to habitat degradation because of agricultural changes. IUCN’s partner, BirdLife International, is starting a recovery project this year
o Red Knot (Calidris canutus). Two distinct populations are giving cause for concern. One, which breeds in the Siberian arctic and winters in western Africa, has declined from over 512,000 individuals in the early 1980s to 340,000 birds. The other, which breeds in Greenland and arctic Canada whilst wintering in north-west Europe, has fallen from 609,000 individuals in the early 1970s to 450,000 birds. Mechanised cockle harvesting and subsequent ecosystem disruption in the Waddensea (Netherlands) are strongly suspected.
* Wader populations are declining in all three flyways, with the greatest declines in the less well known West Asian/East Africa (53% in decline) and Black Sea/Mediterranean (55% in decline) Flyways.
* Despite improvements in our knowledge of status and trends, major gaps remain which need to be addressed: 60% of the populations considered had insufficient data to be evaluated. Recommendations are made on future monitoring priorities.
* The largest number of declining waders are in western Europe, which has the greatest extent of nature conservation legislation. This suggests that there is an urgent need to refocus the implementation of this legislation.

The full 259 page review and supporting data can be found on the Wader Study Group’s website. The final results were incorporated into Wetlands International’s third edition of Waterbird Population Estimates - a publication endorsed by the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention in November 2002.

Further information

Andrew McMullin - SSC Communications Officer, Email:; Tel: +41 22 999 0153

Anna Knee - SSC Communications Officer, Email:; Tel: +41 22 999 0153

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