The impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on wild birds and their habitats

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Although it is impossible to make a thoughtful assessment of the magnitude of the environmental impact of the Russian invasion, previous scientific studies (Dudley et al., 2002, Lawrence et al., 2015) have identified the range effects of war on fauna and flora. habitats. Therefore, we could make certain assumptions about the destruction of the environment and the negative impact on biodiversity caused by Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine.

The scale of military influence is vast, covering the entire territory of Ukraine. The nature and intensity of the war is characterized by strong aggression and total destruction of the environment.

Aerial bombardments, the use of drones, artillery fire and all other existing types of land and mining combat destroy not only settlements with all infrastructure, but also the natural environment. It is safe to assume that military actions will significantly affect the state of bird populations in Ukraine.

Ukraine is of international importance for wild birds: 434 species, 18 globally threatened birds, 19 species for which the country supports more than 15% of the European population (see list below taken from the European Red List of birds) and 141 Important Bird Areas covering 2.5 million hectares. All are under the threat of the direct and indirect influence of military actions. The likely impacts are described below.

Habitat loss: In the zone of active hostilities (northern, eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, total area of ​​288,266 hectares), large-scale destruction of the natural environment has already been observed:

  • Vast expanses of natural and agricultural landscapes are covered with many deep funnels of aerial bombs, missiles and artillery shells. This destroys the habitat of birds (eg gray partridge, skylark, short-eared owl and Montagu’s harrier) as well as other biodiversity.
  • On wetlands, especially in the basins of the Dnieper and Desna rivers, there is a (in some cases significant) disruption of the hydrological regime due to the destruction of hydraulic structures and bridges. This will reduce the area of ​​habitat for wetland birds.
  • As a result of bombings and rocket attacks, large-scale forest fires (Chernobyl zone) and fires in reed thickets in the floodplains of rivers (Azov-Sea region Noire) have destroyed the habitats of forest bird species (e.g. black stork, kite, short-toed eagle, lesser spotted, black grouse, capercaillie, eagle owl, common crane and common crane) and wetland species (eg.

Loss of nesting sites: Some birds are at imminent risk of losing their nesting sites. The white stork is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, since its nests are located in colonies that have been completely destroyed by shelling and shelling. Airstrikes on agricultural buildings have delayed agricultural activities and have had a significant impact on Little Owl as the cattle farm is its main habitat in northern Ukraine. A significant decline in the population of this species is expected as most farms have been destroyed in areas of active fighting.

Local shutdown: Due to the constant shelling in the area of ​​the Black Sea and Azov bays with their islands and spits, where colonial species traditionally nest (e.g. white pelican, crested cormorant, Mediterranean gull, black-headed gull, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Little Tern and Sandwich Tern), there is a threat of local extinction with the loss of tens of thousands of birds.

Disturbance: it is expected that during the war, local people will begin to illegally cut the forest for domestic heating, disturbing and affecting the habitats of specialized forest species (e.g. great gray owl, Tengmalm’s owl and black stork ).

Habitat pollution: iIntensive contamination of the territory with the components of mines, bombs, artillery shells, agricultural chemicals from destroyed warehouses will have a strong negative impact on biodiversity and, in particular, on birds through food sources poisoned.

Hunting pressure: it is possible that local population hunting pressure on large birds (e.g. geese, black grouse, capercaillie, hazel grouse, mallard, pochard and teal) may increase due to food shortages during the occupation blockade.

After the war, a thorough assessment of the overall environmental impacts will be needed to identify the objectives of future conservation activities, including clean-up operations. The long-term prospects for Ukraine’s wildlife will depend on the re-establishment of effective protected area management, habitat restoration and the sustainable management of the country’s agricultural landscapes.

Finally, reconnecting people to nature (especially young people) will be extremely important for psychological healing to help people recover from the trauma of war.

The USPB and its partners are ready to support the Ukrainian government in reviving a conservation program to restore our cherished landscapes for people and for wildlife.

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