A newly published study has shown that global conservation action has reduced the extinction rate of birds by almost half.

The paper, co-authored by BirdLife's Chief Scientist Dr Stuart Butchart, developed a more thorough measure of extinction rates by taking into account changes in extinction risk category on the IUCN Red List, rather than just measuring extinctions over time.

This new method has revealed that global conservation efforts have reduced the effective extinction rate of birds by a phenomenal 40%. Thanks to conservation over the last three decades, Critically Endangered species are now twice as likely to improve in status and move to a lower threat category as they are to deteriorate and become extinct. Without such conservation efforts, the opposite would be true.

Furthermore, the figure is considered a minimum estimate – the rate of success is, in reality, probably much higher. This is because the study only included conservation efforts that resulted in species moving to a lower risk category on the Red List. It did not reflect conservation efforts that allowed species to remain in the same category, rather than sliding even further towards extinction.

While this undoubtedly calls for celebration, there is still plenty of work to be done. The 40% reduction in extinction rate has mainly been achieved by preventing Critically Endangered species from going extinct, rather than preventing species at low risk from moving to higher risk categories. In practice, it would be more effective to prevent species with healthy populations from becoming threatened in the first place. That way, there would be fewer species in immediate need of urgent – and often costly and difficult – conservation efforts.

tree sparrow

Tree Sparrow  - Red listed - down by 96% 

"World governments will meet in 2020 to develop a new framework for tackling biodiversity loss through the Convention on Biological Diversity. Our results show it is critical that this includes commitments to prevent extinctions, but also to keep common birds common," said Butchart.

This is particularly urgent given another of the study's findings – that unless the world ramps up its conservation action, we can expect a wave of bird extinctions far worse than previously anticipated. 

"We need commitments from governments to give nature conservation the priority it deserves, and to recognise that our own future depends upon this," concluded Butchart.

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