24 Oct 2018
40 years ago, we set out to identify the most important sites for birds in Europe. This idea has since spread across the world, informing conservation decisions and setting the model for wider initiatives to follow suit. We recount our top successes in that time.
Way back in 1979, when people had only just stopped wearing flared trousers and BirdLife was still called the ICBP (The International Council for Bird Preservation), we launched a bold new idea – one whose influence has gone far further than we could ever have hoped.
Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas had their origins in the European Union – which at the time was still the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1979, the EEC adopted the Birds Directive, which requires all member states to identify and protect areas that are important habitats for birds. However, it soon became clear that few understood where the most important sites for birds were. It was time for BirdLife to take the helm. So we came up with the criteria to identify these sites – and started to put them into action.
By 1994, IBAs had started expanding across the world. There are now over 13,000 IBAs, which cover 6.7% of the earth’s land surface and 4.2% of the oceans.
But what makes IBAs unique? Firstly, they are identified using the same set of criteria across the whole world, in all countries and in all ecosystems. And unlike landscape-scale approaches such as Biodiversity Hotspots, they pinpoint single sites that can be protected by conservation action to safeguard crucial habitats for one or more bird species. They also tend to be important for wider biodiversity, protecting a diverse range of plants and animals.
Here’s how IBAs have helped to conserve the environment over the past 40 years.