Europe's northernmost aquatic warbler population has expanded.

October 8, 2021

Photography: UNDP in Belarus

The aquatic warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola) is an easy-to-miss tiny bird weighing up to 10 grams, who lives on fen mires. At the same time, it is one of the rarest passerine songbirds in Europe. Today, the aquatic warbler is on the globally threatened species list and requires protection. Its global population is estimated at 11,000 singing males and continues to shrink mostly due to the habitat destruction. The fen mires are threatened by human activities, overgrowing and fires. Since 2004, the aquatic warbler nests in only four countries - Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania. There the bird stays for the summer, but for the winter it flies 7000 -8000 km. - to the north-west part of Africa - Mauritania, Mali and Senegal.

The migration routes of the aquatic warbler.

In Belarus, relatively stable populations of the aquatic warbler have survived in the two largest fen mires in the Brest region - Sporovskoe and Zvanets. The population on Zvanets is believed to be the largest in Europe and is estimated about 3,000 singing males. The small populations of the aquatic warbler can also be found in the transitional bogs with a stable hydrological regime.

In June 2021, with the support of UNDP and in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, 35 aquatic warbler chicks were transported from Zvanets in southern Belarus to Servech mire in the north. This nature-based solution used to restore and increase populations of rare species is called translocation. Five years ago, there were 60-70 singing males in Servech, but in recent years their number has decreased to 20 males. Scientists call the main reason for the decline is unstable hydrological regime - in some years there are floods, in others - droughts.

The moment the aquatic warbler chicks are released into a new environment. Photo: UNDP in Belarus.

A successful translocation can not only instill hope in the recovery of endangered populations, but also contribute to the long-term conservation of the species by creating a network of small habitats. Translocation of chicks to Servech is expected to double the northernmost aquatic warbler population.

A story of the aquatic warbler translocation from Belarus to Lithuania.

Translocation is not the only nature based solution harnessed to preserve and increase the aquatic warbler population. Together with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus, UNDP, with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), carries out comprehensive work to preserve bogs and restore degraded and disturbed peatlands, which are the habitats for 40% of bird species, 35% of insect species, more than 15% of wild plant species included in the Red Book of Belarus.

Thanks to this work, the disturbed peatlands on a total area of more than 60,000 hectares began to return to their natural condition. This represents 15% of all disturbed and inefficiently used peatlands in Belarus. The total amount of the international technical assistance invested in the restoration and conservation of the country’s peatlands amounted to more than four million US dollars.