Mis­sion to Is­rael

A story about an Is­raeli or­nithol­o­gist, a Nor­folk print com­pany and a team of Nor­folk friends help­ing ad­dress a con­ser­va­tion cri­sis might seem un­likely, but it is just such a tale that NICK ACH­E­SON has to tell

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

Tak­ing the fight for our birds to the Mid­dle East

THE STORY be­gins with birds; with mil­lions of birds pour­ing in a great wave of life to Africa each au­tumn, and back to Europe each spring, their throats full of song. Some of these are be­jew­elled beau­ties, like golden ori­oles and bee-eaters, and some ma­jes­tic giants, like steppe ea­gles and black storks.

But most are fa­mil­iar to us all, the sorts of birds we hear in our gar­dens or on our walks with dogs and grand­chil­dren around Nor­folk vil­lages. They in­clude mil­lions of wil­low war­blers, sedge war­blers, black­caps, swal­lows and house martins. Among them too are birds which have en­tered the Bri­tish psy­che, whose songs and calls are ren­dered in our po­etry and place names: birds like quails, corn­crakes, nightin­gales and tur­tle doves.

But these birds are in cri­sis. No other word for it. Across Europe, North Africa and the Mid­dle East they are il­le­gally trapped and slain in their mil­lions each year as they mi­grate: caught and killed for food, as cage birds and for the per­verse plea­sure of shoot­ing be­ings of such beauty. Our nightin­gales, cuck­oos and tree pip­its – all of which in re­cent years have dra­mat­i­cally de­clined across Nor­folk – have a real chance of be­ing caught on bird lime, in mist nets or by a gun on their south­ward mi­gra­tion, as have count­less mil­lions of mi­grat­ing birds fur­ther east across Europe. The cri­sis is bloody and huge in scale.

En­ter Yoav Perl­man. Is­raeli by birth and a life­long birder, he was drawn to Nor­folk both by its cel­e­brated tra­di­tion of bird­watch­ing and by the op­por­tu­nity to study for a PhD at the Univer­sity of East Anglia, which is world-renowned for ecol­ogy. Back home in Is­rael, Yoav is di­rec­tor of the na­tional bird mon­i­tor­ing scheme at the Is­rael Or­nitho­log­i­cal Cen­tre of the So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Na­ture in Is­rael, the coun­try’s BirdLife In­ter­na­tional part­ner (equiv­a­lent to the RSPB here in the UK).

Bird­ers are a friendly bunch who spend at least as long chat­ting to one an­other on na­ture re­serves (or in pubs) as watch­ing birds. Bird­ers share ideas, they share their pas­sion, and they dis­cuss the de­clin­ing for­tunes of their beloved birds and what must be done to re­verse them. Yoav wasted no time get­ting to know ev­ery­one on the Nor­folk bird­ing scene. In a con­ver­sa­tion with Mike Daw­son, a di­rec­tor of Dray­ton­based Swal­low­tail Print, Yoav chal­lenged him to catal­yse the first Nor­folk team to take part in the ‘Cham­pi­ons of the Fly­way’.

In 2014 Yoav, his friend Jonathan Meyrav, and other col­leagues at the So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Na­ture in Is­rael launched ‘Cham­pi­ons of the Fly­way’, as their stand against the tidal wave of bird slaugh­ter which takes place each year in Europe and the Mid­dle East. ‘Cham­pi­ons of the Fly­way’ is a

24-hour race around Ei­lat in south­ern Is­rael, in late March each year when north­ward mi­gra­tion is at its peak, in which teams of bird­ers from across the world com­pete to see as many bird species as pos­si­ble.

The bird­ing is fun, of course, as is the in­ter­na­tional ca­ma­raderie and com­pe­ti­tion, but far more im­por­tant is the stand the bird­ing com­mu­nity is tak­ing against the il­le­gal killing of mil­lions of birds. More im­por­tant still is the money raised by each team tak­ing part, which is chan­nelled by the race or­gan­is­ers to BirdLife In­ter­na­tional part­ners across Europe, help­ing them com­bat the il­le­gal slaugh­ter of birds. Our birds. Ev­ery­one’s birds.

With the gaunt­let down, and Nor­folk’s honour at stake, Mike could hardly de­mur. So he formed a team of well-known Nor­folk bird­ers to fly the ban­ner for the county in Ei­lat on March 26 this year. Nor­folk’s team is named Liv­ing With Birds and is sup­ported by lead­ing wild bird care com­pany Ja­cobi Jayne and by East Anglia’s eth­i­cal op­tics com­pany Vik­ing Op­ti­cal. Its mem­bers are all long-term res­i­dents of the county, whose lives and work are in­ti­mately con­nected to bird con­ser­va­tion here.

“The bird­ing is fun, of course, but far more im­por­tant is the stand the bird­ing com­mu­nity is tak­ing against the il­le­gal killing of mil­lions of birds”

Mike him­self moved to Nor­folk aged 18 to study at the Univer­sity of East Anglia, where he fell in love with both the county’s birds and with his part­ner Deb­o­rah, with whom he has two chil­dren. With ex­tended fam­ily in Is­rael he has long been im­pressed by the coun­try’s at­ti­tude to con­ser­va­tion. Since he heard of ‘Cham­pi­ons of the Fly­way’ and its mes­sage of broth­er­hood against il­le­gal bird killing he has been itch­ing to take part.

The sec­ond team mem­ber, Guy Kir­wan, is also a grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of East Anglia, where he cut his teeth as a Nor­folk birder. A res­i­dent of Nor­wich, he is a re­spected or­nitho­log­i­cal writer and ed­i­tor. Hav­ing worked with birds in Turkey and Is­rael, and en­joyed a long and fruit­ful as­so­ci­a­tion with the Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of the Mid­dle East, he has first hand knowl­edge of the scale of bird mas­sacre in the re­gion.

If you are a birder in Nor­folk, or in­deed any­where in the world, it is im­pos­si­ble not to know the third team mem­ber, larg­erthan-life Dun­can Mac­don­ald, who owns WILD Sounds and Books which is based on the north Nor­folk coast in Salt­house. For years his bub­bling en­thu­si­asm has been heard – in his loud South African tones – at twitches for rare birds around Nor­folk.

His love of birds and his ef­fu­sive per­son­al­ity are matched only by his com­mit­ment to con­ser­va­tion. WILD Sounds and Books stocks the vis­i­tor cen­tres of Nor­folk Wildlife Trust, across the county, and of the Hawk and Owl Trust at Sculthorpe Moor Com­mu­nity Na­ture Re­serve. The com­pany is a great ally of staff and vol­un­teers on these re­serves and is the BirdLife In­ter­na­tional species cham­pion for the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered spoon-billed sand­piper.

To­gether these Nor­folk bird­ers are ‘Team Liv­ing With Birds’. They will proudly be rep­re­sent­ing the county in Is­rael on March 26, show­ing bird­ers from across the world that no one cares more about birds than the good peo­ple of Nor­folk, that no one is more com­mit­ted to the fight against the bar­baric slaugh­ter of our nightin­gales, our black­caps, our tur­tle doves and our quail.

Be­low (top left clock­wise): Quail, (Co­turnix co­turnix); Barn swal­low (Hirundo rus­tica) Corn­crake (Crex crex); Sedge war­bler (Acro­cephalus schoenobae­nus)

Left: House Martin, (Deli­chon ur­bica)

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