European Natura 2000 Award
“Winning this prize means a lot to us,” said Manolia Vougioukalou from the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS). “We hope that this recognition will not only help us to continue our own activities but will also inspire others to recognise the importance of building wide-ranging, cross-border and cross-interest group networks to carry out conservation actions.”
The HOS, together with eight partners from 4 EU Member States plus Norway, had just won the Cross-border cooperation and Networking Award category prize for their work on the Fennoscandian population of the Lesser White-Fronted Goose (LWFG).
The LWFG is declining alarmingly in south-east Europe. The Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) / Birdlife Greece and partners have combined efforts to carry out urgent, concrete conservation actions in the wintering and staging grounds of the species as well as policy work, awareness-raising, vocational training and environmental education to tackle the problem head on.
Through an extensive network of international, national and local experts and stakeholders, the partners have implemented a successful ‘flyway approach’ spanning the entire Eurasian migration path of the species. A wide range of actors are involved in the initiative — two national public authorities (Ministry of Environment and Energy/Greece and Metsähallitus/Finland), three NGOs (HOS/Greece, BSPB/Bulgaria and WWF/Finland), the Forest Research Institute/Greece, Hortobágy National Park Directorate/Hungary and the UNEP/AEWA Secretariat. In addition to these partners, the project reached 15 countries and experts along the species’ flyway. This partnership has played a key role in implementing a standardised monitoring programme and securing patrolling and habitat restoration work. The initiative was supported by the EU LIFE programme and the Norwegian Environment Fund.
The project is implemented simultaneously in seven Natura 2000 sites across Europe and relies on building networks at all levels. Through the project, knowledge about the species has increased. At the start of the initiative in 2011, the population of LWFG was known to number some 50-70 individuals; now, over 110 birds are registered. The network in Europe involved in conservation of the LWFG now has over 100 people who are engaged in monitoring in 18 countries. Around 2 000 people overall from school children and local hunters to international experts and senior policy makers have been engaged through the project. Around 50 people in Greece and Bulgaria have been trained in applying novel patrolling schemes.
According to Jury member Roby Biwer (Committee of the Regions), the project was selected as the winner because of its marvellous fit with the category – the wide network of actors of different types involved, the many different countries included and the fact that it covers the whole life cycle and flyway of a seriously threatened species.
Accepting the prize on behalf of the collaboration, Manolia Vougioukalou agreed that the size and range of the network and involvement of everyone from high-level decision makers to schoolchildren was a key factor for success. The project could however be replicated – the actions themselves are not complicated. She added, “Another key factor for our success today was the effectiveness of our actions. We have already almost doubled the population of Europe’s most threatened waterbird. What we would like to see now is both the network and the population numbers expanding exponentially.”