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2008 Joint Whitley GOLD Award Winner
Cagan Sekercioglu Turkey Wetland and Freshwater
Community-based conservation, ecological restoration and ecotourism at Kuyucuk Lake, Kars, Turkey

Kuyucuk Lake in northeast Kars province lies within one of the least developed but most ecologically important regions of Turkey, an area degrading rapidly in response to human pressures. Found at the convergence of the Caucasus and Irano-Anatolian biodiversity hotspots, the lake is critical to both birds and the rural communities who live close to the 2.2 km² lake. With winter temperatures reaching -50°C and an income of less than £400 per person per year, mile-high Kars is a harsh and timeless place, where summers are for stockpiling wheat, hay and dung for fuel to survive the winter.

In this forbidding landscape of overgrazed steppe, Lake Kuyucuk is a beacon of life and the region’s most important wetland. With over 30,000 birds of 161 species, Kuyucuk is key habitat for globally Endangered White-headed Duck and Egyptian Vulture. The waterfowl are not directly disturbed by locals, but outsiders hunt illegally and poach raptors for falconry. Constant overgrazing by hundreds of livestock removes all the grass and most of the reeds. The spring water which feeds the lake is diverted for cows. There is an urgent need for a locally-based conservation program that benefits the villagers and restores Kuyucuk to its true glory.

Turkish conservationist Dr Çağan Şekercioğlu, 32, initiated the Kars Biodiversity Project in 2003. Under the umbrella of local NGO Kuzeydoga Society, he is working at all levels, lobbying the government to increase protection and gain international RAMSAR recognition for Lake Kuyucuk. His holistic approach, the only example of its kind in Turkey, is introducing simple solutions that protect the wetland whilst bringing real benefits to local people. Students from primary to graduate level are being taught in the field, nurturing the next generation of custodians. Paths for birdwatchers open the possibility for significant contributions to the local economy whilst protecting nesting birds. A buffer zone around the wetland is reducing erosion whilst drinking points limit damage by livestock. The project’s emphasis on youth has energized the local desire for stewardship and has hit a live nerve in Kars to take control of the future of this special wetland.

International Publicity achieved for Kuyucuk Lake

Çağan has achieved record publicity success as a result of winning the Whitley Award, with TV appearances on national Turkish TV, coverage on BBC Worldwide and an official letter of praise from the President of Turkey.  See all this coverage and more information on his campaign at

Project Update: 2018 Continuation Funding

Protecting globally Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in northeastern Turkey
£70,000 over two years

Extremely biodiverse northeastern Turkey is located at the intersection of Caucasian and Iran-Anatolian Global Biodiversity Hotspots. Since 2004 Dr Çağan Hakkı Şekercioğlu has monitored and tracked birds in the region, demonstrating the significance of the wetlands for millions of breeding, wintering and migrating birds coming from 31 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. The work by Çağan and his team has been instrumental in the declaration of Lake Kuyumuk as eastern Turkey’s first Ramasar site. However, these globally significant sites remain threatened by development projects such as mining and hydro-electric dams in the face of weakening environmental legislation.

Çağan will use his Continuation Funding to continue to petition local and central government for increased protection of 11 Key Biodiversity and Important Bird Areas. He will also expand environmental education and successful village based ecotourism programmes in the local communities that could be affected by flooding should damming go ahead. Long term ornithological monitoring will also serve to help better understand and safeguard this wetland from being lost.