I am away this week, so I am taking the opportunity to invite colleagues to tell you about some of our International Research.  In today's guest blog, Rob Sheldon shares his experiences from the mudflats of Myanmar.

"SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER!" shouted Christoph Zockler.

The 15 hour flight, 3 hour car drive and lack of sleep on board a local fishing boat suddenly became worthwhile.  Just one hour into survey work and scanning the first flock of small waders Christoph picked out a single spoon-billed sandpiper, one of the worlds most endangered birds.  My first sighting – amazing!

We are working with a multi-national team to survey one of the most important wintering sites, the Gulf of Martaban in Myanmar (aka Burma).  The effort to save these birds is truly international, this particular survey team representing the UK, Germany, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.  Our group is made up of 8 boats, 15 surveyors, and 16 local villagers who are navigating and preparing a continuous supply of rice and noodles!

The survey team, ankle-deep in the life-giving mud of the Gulf (Rob Sheldon)

We’ve spent 5 days on these boats, living the life of waders - our daily routine determined by the rhythm of the tide. When the tide is on its way in, we return to the boats, eat and move on to the next area, and when the tide goes out and the mudflats become exposed we leave the boats to get on with survey work. The skill of the boatmen is truly amazing - they navigate purely by the way the water flows and through local landmarks, yet they are more accurate than our satellite images and GPS units!

Our home for the week (Rob Sheldon)

Not only is this vast 180 square kilometre estuary important for spoon-billed sandpiper, but also more than 150,000 waders are thought to use the area.  It has an amazing tidal bore, more impressive than the Severn, and is one of the most dynamic estuaries in the world. The saltmarsh erodes and reforms incredibly quickly, so that from one year to the next the estuary is never the same.  We can see saltmarsh being eroded in front of our very eyes. The place is a true wilderness and one of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited.

Over the 5 days, we had more than 100 sightings of spoon-billed sandpiper which highlights the importance of this fantastic area. We counted more than 15,000 waders, yet we only covered about 5% of the estuary.

Hard at work while the tide allows (Rob Sheldon)

As we returned to the mainland I reflected on the previous days, and I can’t help but reflect that the long-term future of the spoon-billed sandpiper and the Gulf of Martaban are intimately linked – saving this habitat is critical to saving this amazing bird.  Maybe if I am lucky enough to return one day, watching a spoon-billed sandpiper will be a thrill because we succeeded in securing its future, not because of it’s a rare sight.

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  • Peter - you have a point.  The good news is that for a number of years we have been acting to reduce our carbon emissions 3% per capita per annum from our built estate and from business travel.  Despite our growing international programme, we have managed to meet our targets. Yes, international flights do make quite a dent in our carbon budgets.  And yes, we have done a good deal to restructure some of our programmes (for example our global seabird programme has regional coodinators posted in key locations around the world) to reduce dependency on flying.  We outpost a number of colleagues, but yes short trips are occasionally necessarily.  The important thing is that the target ensures that our carbon footprint remains in our mind and I am convinced that it is driving behaviour change without compromising our conservation ambitions.

  • I can not help but note how short are the visits of the posters ; a week here or two there; important work yes but no less or more important is reducing our CO2 bill..... we have failed to reduce the frenetic nature of our lifestyle.... Can I start the slow birdwatching movement ?.......What about 6 months unpaid leave/sabbaticals to lengthen these trips and deepen their value ? Tax breaks deductions/NI top ups for Big Society volunteers overseas ?

    We are at Rio post 20. As a thought can not Cameron video Conference with the other world leaders as CO2 rises remorselessly ?

  • Fantastic work and so, so important, well done to all.