OSME and Avifauna Nature Tours supporting the next generation of conservationists

Guest blog by OSME member, James Hogg

​ ​Inspiring the next generation of conservationists and birdwatchers is crucial if we are to protect our environment, save our special places and reverse the decline in threatened species. During the last 18 months OSME and Avifauna Nature Tours have supported a number of projects that have had education and awareness raising at their heart.

In the spring and summer of 2016 we funded an education programme run by the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds (ASPB) – the BirdLife partner in Armenia. The project was based at the Dsegh Nature Visitor Centre within the Dsegh Important Bird Area (IBA), and enabled 100 school children to participate and attend a wide-range of talks and practical lessons by leading conservation organizations in Armenia such as WWF ArmeniaArmenia Tree Project (ATP), FLEG/IUCN, as well as ASPB. The schoolchildren from across Armenia visited in small groups of 10-15 and were introduced to the country’s birds and mammals, and learnt about wildlife conservation and forest management.  The participants had an opportunity to practice their knowledge in bird identification during birdwatching trips in the Dsegh IBA. The Dsegh IBA is home to more than 150 bird species including Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Lesser Spotted Eagles, Caspian Snowcock and Caucasian Grouse.

During the autumn migration period in 2016, a bird camp was held at Besh Barmag in Azerbaijan to inspire young local bird enthusiasts and to develop their identification and survey skills. A team of ten young Swedes, led by OSME Council member and Avifauna tour guide, Tomas Haraldsson, joined participants from Nature Friends Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society (BirdLife in Azerbaijan). A team of German surveyors have been monitoring the Besh Barmag on the Caspian Sea coast since 2006, and the site is being increasingly recognised as an important migration hotspot. 

Migration is one of the most spectacular events in the natural world and is a great opportunity to inspire people about nature and wildlife. More than 60 Azerbaijan students attended the youth camp and learnt about bird identification, bird ringing and survey techniques. The youth camp was a major success and further camps are planned for the spring and autumn this year. Check the OSME Facebook page for updates on the next camp from the 21-24th April.

A crucial aspect of raising awareness is the availability of suitable educational materials. Most of us can remember which books inspired us about birds and bird identification when we were younger (mine was the Observer’s book of British Birds). Over the last two years OSME, along with BirdLife InternationalRSPB and Bloomsbury publishing have been working on a revised Arabic version of Birds of the Middle East. This book, covering more than 800 species from across the Middle East, co-authored by Richard Porter and the late Simon Aspinall is widely recognised as the leading field guide for the region. It is hoped that having a field guide in Arabic will inspire a new generation of bird watchers to appreciate the amazing birdlife of this wonderful region. At the recent launch event in Dubai, UAE, the Emirati birder Ahmed Al Ali explained how it was difficult for young Emiratis to get excited about birds without anything available in Arabic.  

OSME are delighted with the support we have received from Avifauna over the last 18 months to help develop these initiatives, which we are confident will have a long-lasting impact on bird conservation across the Caucasus and the Middle East for years to come.

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