Armenia’s White Stork: Using ‘Nest Neighbours’ for species and habitat conservation, Armenia
Armenia, a landlocked country between the Black and Caspian Seas, is small at only 30,000 km² but is of great importance to birds. More than 350 bird species have been recorded in Armenia, including endangered White-headed Duck, Dalmatian Pelican and Great Snipe. Of particular importance are the wetlands of the Ararat valley, only 170 km² of which survive following attempts to drain them during the Soviet era. Today, a new threat has emerged in the form of a £100 million Millennium Challenge Award for infrastructure development, which includes a proposal to drain the remaining wetlands at the base of Mount Ararat.
Faced with such a huge threat, it is perhaps surprising to hear that the White Stork, a bird that breeds in open farmland areas with access to marshland, may hold the key to engaging local communities on wetland drainage.
Dr Karen Aghababyan, 34, leads efforts to increase awareness of the importance of wetlands in communities across Armenia. Karen’s studies have showed that whilst many Armenians feel indifferently towards wetland, White Storks are seen as a cultural icon. They are seldom persecuted and often nest close to people, on anything from telegraph poles to roofs. A stork nest on your house is seen as a sign of good luck.
Karen has launched a community focused programme, ‘Nest Neighbours’, aimed at increasing public understanding of storks and their habitat. Central to the programme is the participation of villagers who are helping monitor the White Stork populations. By getting involved in conservation, Armenians are building on their love of storks and starting to take notice of what is being decided for the wetlands where they feed.
- By the 1960’s, the Ararat wetlands had decreased from 370 km² to 200 km². Today only 170 km² remain.
- The Ararat wetland area supports 137 species of breeding, migratory and wintering waterfowl and it’s valley supports 527 pairs of charismatic White Storks.
- In mythology, storks bring babies to young couples. 500 families are involved in the ‘Nest neighbors’ programme.
2019 CONTINUATION FUNDING
Protecting wetlands in the South Caucasus and beyond
Armenia, Turkey, Georgia, with influence on Kazakhstan, India, Rwanda
£70,000 over 2 years
With WFN Continuation Funding, Karen aims to address largescale wetland degradation and pollution across multiple countries, working with the Armenian government to implement sustainable solutions which can later be expanded into the Caucasus region and other post-Soviet countries. This includes decreasing pesticide pollution in Turkey and Georgia through developing national policy; piloting a sustainable model of carp-farms in Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan; introducing sustainable hunting management through the improvement of the licensing system, involving hunters in game bird monitoring in Armenia; and transferring the monitoring of White Storks and other indicators of healthy wetland ecosystems into use of mobile apps and online data storage.
The wetlands in South Caucasus have been heavily degraded in recent decades resulting from drainage and pollution. Currently, the level of threats are increasing, with issues stemming from intensification of agricultural and carp-farming. Hunting is causing local extinctions of endangered species and a dramatic decrease of common species which Karen’s current project will seek to address, working with Whitley Award winners such as Cagan Sekercioglu in Turkey.