In the middle of September Cluj Napoca was host to the 19th conference of the European Bird Census Council (EBCC). Organised jointly by Babeș-Bolyai University, Romanian Ornithological Society (BirdLife Romania) and Milvus Group, the conference bought together people involved in bird monitoring, research and conservation from all across Europe and beyond. The topics covered, each presented by experts in their respective fields, were varied, ranging from new technologies and methodologies in bird monitoring through to discussions on the causes of changes in bird populations, distribution and demographics, the factors influencing these changes and the effectiveness of conservation programs currently in place to address them.
Held every three years since 1960, this was the first time that EBCC conference has come to Romania, or indeed anywhere in South Eastern Europe. The timing is not insignificant. Only 15 years ago, bird monitoring was virtually unknown in Romania and census work limited only to single species in small pockets of the country. We were a land of rich and often fragile biodiversity with no way of monitoring that biodiversity. Yet, while many Romanians had a practical and cultural understanding of wildlife that comes with a society that has lived of the land for centuries, there was very little scientific understanding of this wildlife, its populations, distribution and demographics. Only when a species became extinct, or dangerously close to it, did we become aware. Sometimes not even then – four species of vultures disappeared from Romania in the 20th century, a fact few people know about. Even now, the Great Bustard, the last surviving population of which lives in Romania, is continuously threatened by local authorities new infrastructure plans.
After the year 2000, things began to change as conservation groups began monitoring species. Then, in 2005-2006, the first scientifically substantiated estimation of a wide spread species- the Lesser Spotter Eagle– was carried out. However, it wasn’t until Romania joined the EU in 2007 that the country properly started to take the monitoring of its bird fauna more seriously. Prompted first by the Birds Directive, and then thrown into the deep end with the task of designating Natura 2000 sites, for which population numbers for many species needed to be known both on a National level and within specific sites, we were forced to get our act together. Both time and money were short, and numbers of properly trained people were even shorter. Yet with this incentive, Romania made a huge step towards knowing and protecting its bird populations better then ever before.
In just over ten years, our understanding of the population trends of birds has changed hugely. The work started off by the accession to the EU has continued to grow and grow, especially through the management plans of Natura 2000 sites which has forced surveys to be conducted in many N2000 sites across the country – a process still ongoing today.
But, of course, there is still much work to be done. As wildlife faces ever increasing threats- from intensive agriculture, changing climate patterns and uncontrolled infrastructure development to name but a few- the need for effective species monitoring becomes ever more important. We have come a long way, but there is still much to be done and, in the understanding of wildlife patterns, still much to learn.
This is what the conference was about; the sharing of expertise and information from all across Europe and the passing on of knowledge from those countries with a long and rich experience in species monitoring to those newer to the field. We in Romania certainly learnt a lot over the week, and we hope that the other participants returned to their countries having learnt something from ours.