Twenty-five million. This figure should strike a familiar chord with European birders as it is the generally accepted number of birds slaughtered illegally in the Mediterranean region each year. Some estimates have put it higher, at a shattering 36 million.
Since its inception in 2014, the Champions of the Flyway bird race — a joint initiative between BirdLife International and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) — has been successful in raising money to help BirdLife combat the killing. It's a slow process, which relies on largely upon goodwill and local education, with many of the shooting and trapping practices steeped in tradition and passed from generation to generation. Continued funding for this process is crucial.
While raptors are shot for sport in some areas, songbirds are trapped for sale as delicacies on a massive scale in others. Although it goes on throughout the year, it's the migrants which are the most vulnerable and likely to fall foul of illegal mist-nets, glue-sticks and other devices.
It is not difficult to appreciate that continued slaughter on such a scale is having a detrimental impact on birds which move to and from Britain and Northern Europe each year. That means 'our' birds are in the firing line....
And so the race was born. Champions of the Flyway is an important conservation initiative which aims to raise money through the sponsorship of participating bird race teams. The event takes place in Israel, a country chosen for its spectacular bird migration as millions of birds use it as a flyway between their breeding grounds in Europe and Asia and their winter quarters in Africa and the Middle East. There is also no hunting, the country providing a safe passage for migrant birds.
It's a truly international event involving sponsored teams from as far afield as the USA, China, South Africa and Finland as well as local Israeli and Palestinian birders. While each team's objective is to see as many species in 24 hours within a well-defined area and so scoop the Champions of the Flyway award for the most species recorded, it's a race with a difference. Teams are encouraged to communicate and pass information between each other to boost each other's tallies! There's an award for the team which passes the most information, deemed 'Knights of the Flyway' and another for the team which raises the most money in sponsorship, the 'Guardians of the Flyway'.
In the years since the race has been running BirdGuides and its sister organisation Birdwatch magazine have entered a team, the Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners, who were delighted to win the coveted Guardians of the Flyway award in 2015.
This year we will be attempting to do the same, on 28 March. With the aim of reaching — and ultimately exceeding — our £3000 target, we could use all the support we can get! In the absence of any large corporate sponsors at present this year, we are currently relying upon the generosity of individuals to help us achieve our goal.
The Roadrunners team line-up for 2017 features BirdGuides and Birdwatch writer Mark Pearson, the BTO's Head of Surveys Dawn Balmer and myself.
If you would like to support this important cause, please visit the Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners' fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/COTF17-BWBGroadrunners — every donation is greatly appreciated and goes direct to BirdLife International. You can read more about the team at www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/birdwatch-birdguides-roadrunners, while details of the campaign and the event itself can be found at www.champions-of-the-flyway.com.
The money raised from this year's event will be used by BirdLife International to support a project with Doga Dernegi (Birdlife in Turkey) focusing once again on the illegal killing of birds on migration in Turkey.
The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.