Whilst I am sure we all support BirdLife I’ve never really bothered with the Champions of the Flyway bird race they hold each year in Israel. Part of that is personal, which I will put to one side, but I guess the other was just indifference to something happening elsewhere.
So what made me support it this year and sponsor Team Pterodromoi – the BirdLife Greece racers?
Well, lets just call it one of those penny dropping moments as I listened to Roula Trigou and Francisco Vargas-Bianchi of the Hellenic Ornithological Society (the Birdlife partner in Greece) on the Talking Naturally podcast (see below) as they spoke about the scale of the illegal bird killing in Greece and throughout the Mediterranean.
We often think that images are more powerful than words, but I think I have become ‘image blind’ when it comes to the slaughter of migrant songbirds in Europe. I’ve been seeing pictures of them as long as I’ve been a birder, for over 30 years, and they don’t change, they’ve stopped shocking me. I’ve also read about the annual slaughter many times online, in magazines and in books. But I rarely hear people talking about it. The Talking Naturally podcast changed that. I was rooted. I stopped work and just listened (which is rare in itself for me) and it was hearing Roula and Francisco speak about the problem and how it isn’t being effectively combated, and about the cover up to hide and justify the millions of songbirds trapped or shot each year in Greece, that I was shaken out of my indifference.
The first thing I did was to join the Hellenic Ornithological Society. I now feel ashamed that I have been visiting Greece annually for 17 years and have never supported them. I will be doing from now on.
It was then it occurred to me I could perhaps do more. Could I sponsor the team? Help them more than just making a donation? So I asked my friend, and Team Pterodromoi member, Nikos Probonas, who quickly handed me on to another Pterodromoi Team member, Roula, who also works for BirdLife Greece. It took just 15 minutes for Roula and I to agree how I could sponsor the team and agree to help the team fundraise to meet their modest target of £3,000.
The bottom line is that millions of songbirds, mostly newly arrived migrants, are trapped (using limed sticks or netted) or shot, each year in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Its not just Malta. Its not just a few Ortolan buntings to eaten on the death bed of French Presidents. It is millions, that is, MILLIONS, of birds, every, single, year. And it doesn’t go away because we don’t like it. No its just hidden in most places – in some places they just don’t care who sees it – and its hidden behind it being a ‘tradition’ – and many of us are all to familiar with these bird killing traditions from our own countries. But it isn’t necessary and it is utterly illegal. And there is something we can do about it. We can unite. Together we can rise up against it. We can support initiatives such as Champions of the Flyway and organisations such as BirdLife International and their national partners across Europe. And we must fight it. As birders, as conservationists we can’t just sit back and allow this slaughter to go on.
- 25 million birds are killed in Mediterranean countries every year.
- Up to 2.4 million Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla are killed every year in the Med.
- Up to 1.8 million Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos are killed every year in the Med.
- Nearly 1 million Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur are shot every year in the Med.
- 20 locations alone account for up to 8 million birds killed every year in the Med.
- 1 million birds are killed in Greece each year with many birds sold in markets including Athens.
- Bird markets across the Med sell songbirds as pet cage birds.
- And all this is all illegal – the largest and most flagrant abuse of any European law.
So if you’re still reading this then you have at least a germ of interest in stopping this slaughter and, if you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to support any of the teams talking part in the Champions of the Flyway bird race. All money raised goes to BirdLife Greece to help their fight against the illegal killing of migrant songbirds.
And if you need more persuading, then listen to the podcast that turned me. I hope it has the same affect on you.
With so many causes vying for our attention and money it’s hard for conservation causes to get heard against the many humanitarian causes that have bigger budgets, bigger voices and more shocking images in order to get people to support them – especially now with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.
It takes big things to do big things and we, as bird conservationists, have to put other issues aside and support our own community and causes because, given the choice, most members of the public will help to save a starving child and not a bird stuck on a lime stick.
So please, support Team Pterodromoi – the BirdLife Greece racers, or any other team, and you to will be a Flyway Champion.
Finally I would like to lay more than a little praise at the feet of Talking Naturally and its founder and host, Charlie Moores. It’s a great podcast series (I was even a guest on one some moons ago). Charlie is more than a Flyway Champion, but a great conservation champion and deserves enormous credit for bringing, and keeping, so many issues in