The term Near Threatened may not be as bad as Endangered but it is still a cause for concern.
Whether some UK seaside residents realise it or not, the Eurasian Oystercatcher – simply known as the Oystercatcher by many birdwatchers and conservationists here – is a wide spread bird and common sight on the shorelines and estuaries of this country. You have probably heard its sharp call from beaches and in the background of wildlife documentaries and seen the distinctive black and white plumage and straight red bill as it wanders the sands and rockpools. It is such a common sight on nearly every walk to the coast or river that I was surprised to hear that it is in trouble. Oystercatcher numbers have dropped to such a degree that they are now to be classed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
There is the potential that this story is going to be overlooked slightly by some UK organisations and the public because of that term “near threatened”. It isn’t the sort of phrase that gets people worried because near threatened leads to the belief that it is not actually seen to be in trouble and there is therefore no need for concern. The other reason for this upgraded classification going a little unnoticed is that all eyes seem to be on the birds that are much closer to extinction along that Red List and, unsurprisingly, much cuter. The puffin is a cute, comical bird that is photogenic and adored by kids and grown-ups alike whereas the Oystercatcher is passed by because it is duller and more common, or so we thought.
We cannot simply shrug off the term Near Threatened” because it is so far down the scale; the point here is that the Oystercatcher, in addition to many other farmland waders, has seen its status upgraded through these new reports and studies and is therefore doing worse. It has risen from Least Concern to Near Threatened and, logically, if it is near to being threatened at the moment and we ignore it, it will jump again to Vulnerable or worse.
Optimists in the world of bird conservation will look at the population trends and the potential future for the Oystercatcher and hope that this is temporary decline and populations may soon stabilise. The problem is that with European farmlands becoming decreasingly suitable and secure for breeding farmland waders, due to lack of suitable habitat or dangerous machinery, and other dangers seen regarding shellfish stocks in their estuary wintering grounds, there is that ongoing threat that could have disastrous consequences. Thankfully, some farmers are trying to make a difference by changing the way they manage their land and limiting the use of machinery in areas with nests and chicks and, if these conservation measures are seen and increased across Europe, there is hope for the protection of this important wader.
Near Threatened is not a term to disregard because we assume that this common shorebird is doing well; it means that there is a fine line between it recovering and being downgraded back to Least Concern and it struggling and being upgraded to Vulnerable. As you walk along the seaside or local estuary this winter and see these charming black and white birds poking around in the mud or flying off with that distinctive call, think about the threats that they faced to get there and the chances of their offspring and don’t ignore the Near Threatened Eurasian Oystercatcher.
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