Important Bird Areas in Macedonia: Sites of Global and European Importance

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Important Bird Areas in Macedonia: Sites of Global and European Importance

Identification of the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) is an initiative implemented by BirdLife International at the global level, aiming to conserve a network of sites that are particularly important for the conservation of birds. With the changed conservation status of some species and increased information on the distribution and population sizes of birds in Macedonia in general, a revision of the IBA network was needed to update previous inventories for this country, published in 1989 and 2000. As the bird fauna of the Republic of Macedonia ranks among the least known in Europe, and as data on many species, notably passerines, are still largely missing, the inventory is mainly based on some threatened or rare birds of prey and a few other larger species, yet characteristic of the Macedonian landscape. Data used were collected in the course of different dedicated studies and projects carried out after 2000. Out of 314 species so far registered in Macedonia, 114 regularly occurring species have currently unfavourable conservation status in Europe, 84 of which breed or possibly breed in the country. Several criteria for the selection of IBAs of global (A criterion) and European importance (B criterion) developed by BirdLife International were used for sites selection, taking into consideration species of global conservation concern (A1), biome-restricted species (A3), important congregations (A4, B1) and species with an unfavourable conservation status (B2) or concentrated (B3) in Europe. Species of global conservation concern used for site identification include the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus, considered Endangered (EN) at the global level according to the latest IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus and Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca (both Vulnerable - VU), and Roller Coracias garrulus and Semicollared Flycatcher Ficedula semitorquata (both Near Threatened - NT). Furthermore, species assemblages characteristic as occurring mostly or entirely within a Eurasian high-montane or Mediterranean biome are found in Macedonia. Important congregations of non-breeding waterbirds with at least 1% of global or biogeographic populations of individual species occur on all three large lakes in the country, some of them (e.g. Dalmatian Pelican, Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina) in very large numbers, surpassing the 1% threshold by more than tenfold. In total, 25 species regularly occurring in the breeding season, for which the site protection approach is thought to be appropriate in Macedonia, were used for the selection of sites of European importance. Site boundaries were drawn following distinct natural features or isohypses to include breeding sites and foraging areas of triggering species, and, for Imperial Eagle and Egyptian Vulture also former breeding sites back to 1991, taking into consideration their habitat requirements, land-use and management needs. The resulting IBA list numbers 24 sites, covering 6,907 km2 or 26.9% of the entire territory of Macedonia: (1) Šar Planina Mountain, (2) River Radika Catchment, (3) Lake Ohrid, (4) Lake Prespa, (5) Demir Kapija Gorge, (6) Lake Dojran, (7) Zletovska River Valley, (8) Tikveš Region, (9) Pčinja - Petrošnica - Kriva Reka Rivers, (10) Preod - Gjugjance, (11) Osogovo Mountains, (12) Jakupica Mountain, (13) Taor Gorge, (14) Ovče Pole, (15) Topolka - Babuna - Bregalnica Rivers, (16) Gradsko - Rosoman - Negotino, (17) Lake Mantovo and Kriva Lakavica River, (18) Raec River Valley, (19) Pelagonia, (20) Mariovo, (21) Lake Tikveš, (22) Bošavija, (23) Kočani Rice Fields, and (24) Lower Vardar. With the exception of three sites occupying the highest parts of the large mountain massifs in NW and central parts of Macedonia, and the lakes Ohrid and Prespa, sites are concentrated mostly in central hilly and lowland parts of the country, comprising breeding areas of species of global conservation concern. The percentage of territory covered by the IBAs in Macedonia is relatively high compared to the total European average but comparable to several countries in SE parts of Europe. The size of separate IBAs ranges from 25 km2 (Taor Gorge) to 1,136 km2 (Pelagonia) and number of triggering species per site from one (Bošavija, Kočani Rice Fields) to 17 (Pčinja - Petrošnica - Kriva Reka Rivers). 22 sites trigger some of the criteria of global importance - three sites (Lakes Ohrid, Prespa and Dojran) meet A4 criterion, eight sites hold significant populations of species characteristic of the Mediterranean biome, while three other sites sustain significant populations characteristic of the European high-montane biome. Species of global conservation concern are included as follows: Egyptian Vulture on 13 sites, Imperial Eagle on 7, Dalmatian Pelican and Saker Falcon Falco cherrug on 2, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca on 3, Roller Coracias garrulus on 10, Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus on 3 sites, and Semi-collared Flycatcher on 1 site. Individual triggering species for sites of European importance are represented on 2-15 sites. The IBA network includes 80-100% of the national populations of the globally threatened species, while the coverage of other species vary between 5% and 100%, being over 40% in great majority of species. Non-irrigated arable land and transitional woodland-shrub are dominant land-cover types, jointly covering 32% of the total IBA surface area. Abandonment of traditional pastoral system, resulting in decrease of the livestock numbers and overgrowing as well as trapping, poisoning and poaching, are considered the most serious threats for triggering species, particularly the Egyptian Vulture and Imperial Eagle, being classified as high on no less than 11 sites, respectively. The national legal protection of the sites is incomplete, being either only partial or with inadequate conservation measures adopted, or, many sites still lack any form of legal protection. With about 21% of the National protected area network overlapping with the IBAs, the existing protected area system is thus insufficient for conservation of most priority species. Notably underrepresented are the regions in the lower parts of the country with the highest number of species of global conservation concern.

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