Oxford, 18 October 2004. Last week the UK governments leading scientist, Professor Sir David King, warned that an irreversible climate disaster was imminent. If carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, the Greenland ice cap will melt and global sea levels will rise by 6-7m in as little as sixty years time, leaving much of Britain underwater. What is the fate of our planet if our climate changes and what, can a songbird do to help?
Migratory songbirds may be one of the best indicators of climate change because they use several climatic and ecological zones during their yearly migration flights. Investigating the origin, health and food resources of these birds can tell us about the habitat conditions along the migratory pathway. If any of their stopover sites fail to support them, the whole migration is in peril.
This is why Earthwatch-supported scientist Dr. Gabor Lövei (Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences) has been awarded funding by the Aviva/Earthwatch Award for Climate Change Research, which recognises the importance of climate change related study and provides Earthwatch scientists with additional resources to aid their work.
Dr Lövei has been leading the scientific field research project Europe - Africa Songbird Migration in collaboration with 288 Earthwatch volunteers on teams since 1993. By the end of 2003, they had captured, ringed, measured and released 215,430 birds of 154 species at research sites in Hungary, southern Italy and in Kenya. This long term, comprehensive database provides an excellent opportunity to analyse changes in the long-term health and migratory patterns of birds,and investigate the actual and potential impacts of climate change.
The £6000 grant from the Aviva/Earthwatch Award for Climate Change Research will allow Lövei and his team of Earthwatch volunteers to realise the full potential of their research by synthesising and publishing their vast amount of data collected over 20 years in Hungary. The award will also enable team to identify the origin of swallows at a newly-discovered, million bird roost at their Kenyan research site by using a special isotope signature of their feathers.
Dr. Gabor Lövei says, ‘I feel elated, honoured and humbled to win this award. The possibilities for this project are huge and with extra resources I hope that we can continue with our research long into the future, and in doing so secure the future of the migratory songbird. Earthwatch support has been vital to our project; the opportunity to share my work and ideas with so many people from different walks of life has been fantastic.'
Dr Roger Mitchell, Chief Scientist at Earthwatch (Europe) says, ‘This research will not only help provide a better understanding of the magnitude and potential deleterious effects of climate induced change on migratory birds, but will also provide management information to counter these effects by habitat conservation measures in Hungary. The volunteers who have helped to collect the data will not only feel they have made a difference but will hopefully take this environmental awareness with them into their jobs and communities.'
Anthony Sampson, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Aviva says, ‘Last month, Tony Blair spoke of the need for immediate action on climate change, warning of catastrophic and irreversible repercussions within our lifetime if action is not taken. As an insurer, climate change has been a key issue for us for some while now and we gladly support this Award for Climate Change Research. The natural world is full of flashing warning indicators which we ignore at our peril. The work of Dr. Lövei addresses and interprets some of these indicators'.
Earthwatch has eleven field research projects dedicated to understanding the potential effects of climate change. Enthusiastic volunteers are always required to work alongside scientists in the field. For more information please call + 44 (0) 1865 318831 or visit www.earthwatch.org/europe