LONDON A European Union policy of protecting rare birds is working, according to British researchers who said their study shows the benefits of global agreements to save endangered species.
The study is the first to test the impact of one of the 20 international pacts seeking to protect endangered species and their habitats, said Paul Donald, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who led the research.
"The premise we started from is the future protection of the planet's biodiversity is going to rest on the success of these international agreements," Donald said in a telephone interview. "The scale of the problem is well beyond what non-governmental organizations are able to address."
The study, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, measured bird populations in European Union member countries going back 30 years.
A country was considered outside the EU if it was not a member in 1979, when the trading bloc established its bird protection policy that did things like place limits on hunting, protect habitats and provide funding, Donald said.
The researchers tested how about 140 species of birds on a protected list such as ospreys, avocets and a number of water birds fared in comparison with other species within the European Union and similar species in non-member nations.
In both cases, populations of the protected birds increased at a faster pace than non-EU populations, demonstrating the success of the 1979 EU Bird Directive, Donald said.
Because the EU directive did not set specific targets, the researchers used the census to gauge broad changes and improvements in bird populations, he added.
"This is the first time an international conservation agreement has been tested in this way," he said. "We were surprised to find what the data supported."
The study also found that birds fared better the longer they were on the protected list, bolstering evidence that the policy has paid off, Donald said.
The research also suggests that monitoring is crucial and that during the next census researchers would see healthier bird populations in countries that have recently joined the European Union, he said.
"When we collect this data again we would hope to see the same pattern being created in these new member states," Donald said.