Collaborating to identify and expand knowledge on migratory birds and quarries

Shane Sparg, Conservation Partnerships Manager at BirdLife International, reports on the HeidelbergCement-BirdLife Partnership to increase scientific knowledge, raise awareness and educate society about migratory birds.

Over the past 12 months, the partnership has focused on the topic of migratory birds through quarry surveys, bird counts, webinars and educational programmes. Birds migrate to take advantage of the best seasonal conditions and abundance of food to breed and raise young and, ultimately, survive. Much research has gone into understanding the flyway routes, the birds’ requirements and the threats they face. These routes are fraught with dangers, many of which are caused by humans. One threat is the lack of safe stopovers to replenish energy for the journey ahead, or as a safe habitat to breed for some birds. Quarries can play a crucial role here as a sanctuary within the landscape. Yet little research has been conducted into understanding the value of quarries for migratory birds. 

Contributing to quarry/bird knowledge

To contribute to our understanding of which birds are in our quarries, BirdLife – together with their local partner the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) – conducted scientific field surveys at four HeidelbergCement India sites: Yerraguntala in Andhra Pradesh, Sitapuram in Telangana as well as Narsingarh and Patharia within Damoh in Madhya Pradesh. After the monsoon season in India, these excavation sites are usually brimming with water, turning into lush wetland habitats that are a haven for a wide variety of insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds. They provide an ideal refuge for the migratory birds that visit India from October to March. The study recorded a total of 117 different bird species. Of these, 86 were common resident birds, and 31 winter migrants. The four sites together support 5 near-threatened species (IUCN red-list of threatened species 2019): the Painted Stork, Red-headed Falcon, River Tern, Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter. The survey also recorded vulnerable Woolly-necked Storks at Narsingarh. 

Educating about migratory birds 

To create more awareness around bird migration, HeidelbergCement sponsored the 2019–2020 Spring Alive programme. Spring Alive is organised by BirdLife International aims to inspire and educate children across Africa and Eurasia about the wonders of nature and bird migration. Through workshops, school activities and family events, this initiative fosters the next generation of conservationists. Introducing the programme at the quarries, the national BirdLife partners and HeidelbergCement subsidiaries hosted numerous activities involving primarily children, their families, teachers and quarry staff.

  • In the Czech Republic, for example, 248 people participated in data collection on Sand Martin colonies nesting in excavated quarry land. An extensive Facebook campaign reached over 54,000 people.
  • In Ghana, school events reached over 700 students, and a special ‘bird walk’ around the quarry attracted over 150 participants.
  • In Georgia and Romania, from classrooms to quarries, students and communities studied and learned about the broader concept of biodiversity. Participants were taught how to use binoculars and the basics of bird identification, which proved useful as they walked through the quarries spotting a range of bird species.
  • Due to the poor weather conditions, the event in Poland was restricted to indoor learning activities hosted by HeidelbergCement’s subsidiary Górażdże Cement and run by an enthusiastic team from BirdLife’s Polish partner OTOP. The weather did not dampen the excitement, however, as over 150 children and parents turned up to what was a most enjoyable morning activity. Indeed, some participants requested it to be made an annual event.