Monday, 2 March 2009

RSPB Press Release

Conservationists hope to get Sociable in Syria.

Team of four head to the Middle East

Four Scottish conservationists are heading to Syria this week (leaving on Tuesday 3 March) to search for the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing and bald ibis. The RSPB team Hywel Maggs, Graham Rebecca and John Wills from Aberdeenshire and Martin Scott from the Isle of Lewis will be swapping the damp climate of March in Scotland to search for the Lapwing-like species in the dry arid steppes of Syria.

All four hope to promote conservation through direct contact with local people and government officials, in a partnership first bringing together Britain’s RSPB, The Syrian Ministry of the Environment and the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife through the Darwin Initiative.

Target species include Sociable Lapwing, a species that has declined sharply in recent years and breeds in Kazakhstan and migrates south in winter to Sudan. Recently satellite tracking of this species has shown that the northern Syrian steppes are a critical stop-over area for these plovers on migration and it is hoped that the Scottish team will be able to locate groups in the north eastern deserts.

Syria is also crucial for the fabled Bald Ibis. Only two pairs are known from the Middle East, all nesting in Syria, and these birds too have been satellite tagged. It is thought that they will return to their nesting ledges in central Syria in early March.

Martin Scott, RSPB Scotland Western Isles Officer said:

“All four of us are very excited. Syria looks to have some breathtaking habitats, from the lush Euphrates Valley to the dry steppes and stony deserts of the north. We hope to see lots of amazing birds, but more importantly pass on our knowledge and expertise to a nation that hosts some critical areas for wildlife. Of course, escaping the North of Scotland for six weeks at this time of year has certain appeal too!"

“This is a key international project. Work has been undertaken in Kazakhstan, Sudan and India on Sociable Lapwings, now it is Syria’s turn to be in the limelight. It is a vast country, but not enough is known about it's stunning birdlife. From correspondence, the Syrians are clearly passionate about their wealth of wildlife, and he hope to help them in any way we can. Being able to survey in such a country is a real privilege.”

Areas have already been earmarked as under the international designation of IBA – Important Bird Areas. This has helped to attract sponsorship from acclaimed Austrian company Swarovski, the optical manufacturer, and from the Darwin Initiative which assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources.


For more information/interviews/images, please contact Martin Scott in the first instance on 07775 502799, or RSPB Scotland’s National Media Officer Davey Fitch on 0131 311 6500/07894 173 116. Attached are two pictures of sociable lapwing, pic credit RSPB.


The team hope to run a blog about their adventures in Syria, at

The four fly out from Aberdeen on Tuesday and are in Syria for over a month. All four are very experienced. John Wills has worked on Sociable Lapwing in Kazakhstan and Martin Scott has surveyed in desert areas from the Atacama in Chile, to the Moroccan Sahara and steppes of Armenia. Graham Rebecca has worked on Ring Ouzels in Morocco. In addition to various international survey work Hywel Maggs has monitored migrants in the Eastern Agean, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Additional information:


Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW)

SSCW is a pioneering organization that works for a sustainable wildlife within a frame of solid relations and partnerships to the development of the society .

SSCW works to protect the wildlife, its natural ecosystems, habitats and environment in a balanced and sustainable manner through gaining internal regional and international support to respond to the needs of all humanity and to link that to local development programs within a constructive and participatory approach

Syrian Arab Republic Ministry of Local Administration and Environment

Darwin Initiative

The Darwin Initiative assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) through the funding of collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise

Sociable Lapwing

The sociable lapwing, Vanellus gregarius, is a critically endangered species that has undergone a severe population decline in recent years.

Bald Ibis

The Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita is a bird found in barren, semi-desert or rocky habitats. This 80 cm glossy black ibis has an unfeathered red face and head, and a long, curved red bill. It breeds colonially on coastal or mountain cliff ledges, and feeds on lizards, insects, and other small animals.

Swarovski Optik

Nature conservation and species protection are a significant part of the corporate culture at Swarovski Optik, the family-owned Austrian company. Now, together with the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the manufacturer of sports optics in the premium segment is introducing a 3 year sponsoring project for BirdLife International. Swarovski Optik is the only manufacturer of optical instruments so far, to provide lasting support for a new programme for the protection of endangered bird species by sponsoring the Sociable Lapwing.