Last month, Samarkand in Uzbekistan hosted the biggest ever global gathering of people focussed on the conservation of migratory species - more than 2,000 people from at least 150 countries, 111 of which are Parties to the UN Convention on Migratory Species. As BirdLife International’s focal point for this Convention, the RSPB’s Principal Policy Officer, Nicola Crockford, reports on the outcomes of the conference for migratory birds. 

World’s governments agree on action to conserve migratory species many of which are in decline
Migratory species are the ecological threads that connect the world’s nations and ecosystems. Healthy populations of migratory species can be regarded as an indication of effective international cooperation on nature conservation. Damaging or interrupting their migration routes risks unravelling the whole environmental fabric of our planet, including the ecosystem services it provides us.

In recognition of the need for international cooperation to conserve migratory species, in 1979 the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) was signed. The 133 nations now Party to the treaty met for the 14th time (COP14), last month in Samarkand, on the fabled Silk Road, to commit to further action for migratory species.

It was the first global meeting on biodiversity since almost all the world’s governments agreed the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022. CMS gives specific guidance to governments on how to implement that framework, for example to ensure that the areas needed by migratory species are well connected and any use of the species is legal and sustainable.

The urgent need for concerted, cooperative action was highlighted at the meeting by the publication of the first ever report on the State of the World’s Migratory Species; almost half of the species covered by CMS are declining.

Steppe Eagle flying low over grassland

The Steppe Eagle, globally Endangered with extinction, will benefit from CMS COP14 decisions to establish a Central Asian Flyway Initiative with a Coordinating Unit in India, and a Steppe Eagle International Action Plan © Alexandr Putilin/ACBK.

The RSPB and BirdLife Partnership flock to support governments to do the right thing for migratory species
As an indication of the importance that RSPB attaches to CMS, for decades we have provided the main BirdLife International representative for the CMS, the lead on BirdLife negotiations with the treaty. It has been my honour to hold that position since 2009.

The BirdLife delegation to CMS COP14 brought together 14 BirdLife Partners, including representatives from the RSPB. Our influence was enhanced by the fact that representatives of at least five Partners were embedded in government delegations, often speaking on their behalf, for example Vera Voronova, Executive Director of the Association for the Conservation Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and RSPB’s close partner in our work in Kazakhstan.

A group of delegates standing in front of a banner for the CMS COP14 in Samarkand

Some of the CMS COP14 BirdLife delegation plus representatives from other organisations following the avian agenda at the COP. © Barend van Gemerden - BirdLife International.

CMS COP14 commitments by Governments, encouraged by side events
The BirdLife delegation organised or participated in some 15 side events, on migratory birds and Saiga Antelope to promote our work towards the objectives of the treaty and our positions in the negotiations. Indeed, we secured all the text we needed in the resolutions and decisions adopted by the governments, to further strengthen conservation delivery for migratory species. Let’s explore what these were:

Supporting the Central Asian Flyway
The BirdLife delegation’s top priority was securing the establishment, in the next year or so, of a CMS Central Asian Flyway Initiative, with a CMS Coordinating Unit hosted by India. This was especially apt given the location of the COP in Uzbekistan at the heart of the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) – a migratory bird superhighway that extends across Central Asia from Siberia to the Maldives. The flyway initiative will provide a framework through which governments and other stakeholders can collaborate to conserve migratory birds. It will also underpin RSPB’s work with ACBK in Kazakhstan.

Many other commitments made by governments at the COP were also relevant to the Central Asian Flyway. For example, an International Action Plan for the Steppe Eagle, a globally endangered poster child for the CAF, will be developed in time to be adopted at the next COP in three years’ time.

Strengthened commitments to prevent illegal taking and poisoning of migratory birds
Governments committed to strengthening the implementation of the Multispecies Action Plan for 15 species of African-Eurasian Vultures, including to ban the veterinary use of Non-Steroidal Inflammatory Drugs, such as diclofenac, that poisoned the vultures of South Asia to the brink of extinction. A side event reported on the mid-term review of implementation of the plan. COP14 also provided useful networking opportunities among the SAVE (Saving Asian Vultures from Extinction) consortium coordinated by the RSPB.

Also of benefit to vultures and many other raptors and waterbirds, was a strengthened text on phasing out the use of lead ammunition and fishing weights which currently poisons millions of birds. However, we await the establishment of the Lead Task Force already mandated at the last COP which should support RSPB’s work seeking legislation in the UK and the EU to restrict this use of lead.

The meeting also saw the Working Group on the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan tasked with increasing its work to minimise harmful impacts of agricultural pesticides on migratory birds.

And Saudi Arabia, supported by BirdLife Middle East, committed to establish a South West Asian Intergovernmental Task Force to eradicate illegal take of migratory birds, alongside similar Task Forces for the Mediterranean and Europe and East Asia. This should benefit birds like the Sociable Lapwing. BirdLife launched a report “Bird hunting in mainland South East Asia: Situation analysis & recommendations for conservation action”, which together with strengthened text on restricting production and sale of mist nets and other nets used to trap birds, should help end illegal take of birds like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

Hope for seabirds and coastal migratory species
Importantly, the COP mandated work over the next three years to decide how to fill the gap in coverage of CMS for seabird flyways. And it encouraged governments and other stakeholders to engage in the World Coastal Forum.

Spotlight on migratory species and ecological connectivity across Central Asia
The hosting of CMS COP14 in Central Asia brought a global spotlight to the migratory species of the region, leading additional advances such as the signing by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan of the CMS Raptors Memorandum of Understanding, and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreeing to cooperate in the Ustyurt Plateau transboundary hotspot. The remarkable recovery of the Saiga Antelope, was celebrated at a CMS Saiga MOU side event and highlighted during the COP as a flagship species for removal of barriers from linear infrastructure and ensuring ecological connectivity across the steppes.

An audience sitting in front of a large display and stage for a Saiga Antelope event at CMS COP14

Saiga Antelope, a flagship migratory mammal of the Central Asian region, was spotlighted at the CMS COP14 as a rare example of a species which has achieved a remarkable recovery in Kazakhstan and beyond. © Michaela Butorova/RSPB.

The challenge
Under CMS, over the past 15 years or so, governments have supported all our key asks, committing to do most of what is needed to maintain and restore the planet’s migratory bird populations. Our job now is to support them to turn those words into birds on the ground and flying freely along the world’s flyways between the areas they need – the strings of pearls – to breed, feed, moult and rest.

Continue reading
• Working towards human-wildlife coexistence in the golden grasslands of Kazakhstan: home to the world’s largest Saiga Antelope population
• Saving migratory birds of prey on an international scale - the CMS Raptors MOU
Behind the scenes of an extraordinary expedition to the land of the Saiga antelope

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