Poland boasts an elaborate network of marine protected areas but there is growing concern that they do not protect the birds for which they were introduced.
About 4.5 million seabirds winter in the Baltic Sea every year. The southern areas of the Baltic Sea are a particularly important wintering area for seaduck nesting in the Arctic, with Poland alone supporting . up to 14 per cent of the global population of Long-tailed Duck in the winter, and as much as 54 per cent of the world's Velvet Scoter.
In a recently published article, the authors put forward a simple method to assess the importance of a given protected area for a particular species by calculating a 'value factor'. In Polish waters, Velvet Scoter produced the the highest value factor, coming out at 113, meaning that Poland is crucial for the conservation of the species.
Polish waters host up to 14 per cent of the global population of Long-tailed Duck in the winter (Artur Stankiewicz).
The authors also investigated the legal protection of the most valuable marine areas in the Baltic Sea. They checked which Natura 2000 areas were established for the protection of seabirds in the non-breeding period and which of them have a management plan, a document stipulating the legal principles of protection in the area. A protected area without a management plan may struggle to maintain or boost the populations of the species for which it was designated.
There are 117 Natura 2000 areas in the Baltic Sea, which should provide a safe haven for wintering seabirds. However, the proportion of areas with established management plans varies across the Baltic States. All of Denmark's 29 and Sweden's 12 sites have management plans in place, while the majority of the Natura 2000 areas in Finland and Estonia are also backed up by management plans. However, not one has been approved for any of Poland's eight sites. It is a legal requirement to finalise a management plan for a Nature 2000 area within six years of its creation.
There are various threats to seabirds in the Baltic, including shipping traffic, tourism, oil spills, energy infrastructure and food availability. However, the most significant pressure is fishery, which causes increased mortality in a range of species through bycatch.
Poland has created an expansive network of marine Natura 2000 sites covering 94 per cent of the waters designated by BirdLife International as Important Bird Areas and nearly a quarter of Polish seawaters. However, there the authors pointed out two notable omissions: Southern Middle Bank (which is partly within Sweden), an important wintering site for Long-tailed Duck and auks, and the waters off Vistula Spit, which is an important wintering area for Velvet Scoter.
Management plans for the Nature 2000 sites have been in preparation since 2011, with funding amounting to €2 million provided by the Polish government and the EU, but none have yet been approved.
With both Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the ongoing lack of management plans for the network of protected areas in Poland is putting conservation of these species on the back foot.
Marchowski D., Ławicki Ł., Kaliciuk J. 2022. Management of Marine Natura 2000 Sites as Exemplified by Seabirds Wintering in the Baltic Sea: The Case of Poland. Diversity 14, no. 12: 1081. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/d14121081