Pick of the German Week 06/2000........Cyanide disaster at the Baia Mare gold mine...rivers in Southeast Europe contaminated.....Shotgun Law in North Germany...Hunters and Landowners illegally shoot overwintering Geese

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German Bird of the Year 2000



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500 tonnes of dead fish / EU plans to send team of experts to investigate

According to the Hungarian biologist Karoly Gyore, 500 tonnes of dead fish have been recovered from the River Thiess in Hungary following the environmental disaster at the Baia Mare gold mining works in Romania, where poisonous cyanide sludge overflowed into the river. The estimated fish stocks for this stretch of the river before the disaster are estimated as 4000 tonnes. The poisonous flood has now reached Bulgaria where the first 50 dead fish have been recovered from the River Danube. In this instance it is unclear whether these fish were poisoned or dynamited. The latest analyses show that the cyanide content in the Danube has risen but, according to the official Bulgarian radio station, still remains under the acceptable value of 0.1 milligram/litre.

In the meantime the Rumanian authorities have taken steps to prepare for the return of the cyanide to their country – in the biologically important habitat of the Danube Delta. In the port of Constanta on the Black Sea, and its surroundings, the water supply from the Danube has been cut off. Consideration is also being given to closing the Danube-Black Sea Canal. The uptake of drinking water from the Rivers Thiess and Danube is once again officially permitted in Serbia. The Ministry for Agriculture, Forest and Waterways announced on Friday that cyanide and heavy metal levels had fallen well below the permitted levels.

Cyanide levels in the Ukrainian stretch of the River Thiess give no cause for concern according to the local authorities and up until now no dead fish have been discovered. The Ukraine had stated a few days ago that an acute threat to the species-rich Danube Delta could be excluded. The Danube Delta is still ecologically intact and, after the Amazon Delta, one of the most important internationally. The Rumanian part of the Danube Delta was declared a Biosphere Reserve 10 years ago.

The EU Environment commissar Margot Wallstroem, who visited the area this week, has announced that a team of experts will be sent to the affected region of the Rivers Somes, Thiess and Danube to clearly establish the cause of the disaster. She demanded that the Rumanian authorities make efforts to explain the consequences of the situation to the local people. The latest analysis had shown that the cyanide values were 800-3000 times above the acceptable limit.

Although Esmeralda Exportations, an Australian company, owns 50 % or more of the joint venture gold mine, the affected southeast European countries can expect no help from the Australian government. The Australian Minister for the Environment stated on Friday in Canberra: "I don't believe that we have a moral obligation…this is a private matter for the company involved." Brett Montgomery, chairman of Esmeralda, once again emphasised that there was no evidence of a connection between the environmental disaster and the poisonous overspill from the mine. [A previous statement by a company spokesman had suggested that the fish had died because of shortage of oxygen in the partly ice-covered river!]

In the words of the chairman of the Romanian environmental agencies, Marcian Bleahu, a catastrophe on the scale of Baia Mare cannot occur again. "What happened was a combination of unusual circumstances." Melting snow and heavy rain had raised the level in the filter basin so quickly that a prompt pumping out in order to avoid the dam breaking was impossible.

Comment: The full consequences of the disaster will be known only after a period of careful monitoring of the complete course of the affected rivers and of the Danube Delta. This will be a costly and time-consuming operation, the burden of which will undoubtedly fall on the member states of the European Union. This is understandable as the affected countries are probably short of expertise and certainly of the necessary finance. Nevertheless, it is difficult to accept that the Australian government has no moral obligations in the matter. Besides the fact that the company involved is Australian, it is hard to believe that a joint venture with a former communist state could be set up without any assistance by, or knowledge of, the Australian Foreign Affairs Ministry. In either event, and bearing in mind similar past accidents in the 'gold-tailing' industry in Australia, some technical advice or supervision on a governmental level could have been expected. At the very least the outrageous statements by company representatives on the spot and in Australia, might be considered to be disadvantageous to Australia's image abroad. Of concern is also the attitude of the local environmental agencies to a repeat of the tragedy. Such statements often reflect an unwillingness or inability to tackle the roots of this and similar problems. Here again the European states can perhaps offer their expertise and experience. Before this problem finally goes away we must regrettably await the arrival of the cyanide and other substances at the end of the food chain (birds – and humans!).


Once again the landowners take the law, and shotguns, into their own hands / The NABU in East Friesland condemns illegal Goose hunting and questionable support from the local authorities / The concept for an international wildfowl transit reserve on the Dollart is threatened

Wiegboldsbur, 16. 02. 2000. Matthias Bergmann, head of the NABU in East Friesland is a happy man - thanks to the watchfulness of many local residents and nature-lovers: "The telephone never stops ringing" he exclaims. The reason gives less cause for celebration. During December and early January hunters and farmers once again invaded the Dollart wetlands and declared war on protected goose species – this year with the tacit support of the local authorities in the community of Leer. "This harassment and the illegal shooting of geese in Rheiderland puts paid to any constructive solutions to the problem and seriously threatens the efforts of the NABU and the provincial Environmental Ministry in the Dollart." Matthias Bergmann states.

The NABU had contacted the responsible authorities in Leer before Christmas, drew their attention to the illegal hunting, and requested strict enforcement of the local hunting laws. "Far from taking preventive action" complains Bergmann "the authorities actually issued hunting licences for certain areas! The poaching naturally increased." Large numbers of local residents, nature-lovers - and indeed hunters – reported the illegal activities to the NABU regional office.

Hunting of the majority of the geese species which overwinter in North Germany is proscribed by law. An exception is the Greylag (Anser anser). They may be shot; but are rarely to be found in the area during December and January. They make up perhaps one in a thousand of the overwintering geese. According to the law the shooting of protected species such as Barnacle (Branta leucopsis) and White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) is a criminal offence - and also for the NABU far from a mere bagatelle. "Although the legal position is unambiguous, illegal hunting can be observed again and again, and those responsible are reported. The politicians and local authorities however appear to have neither the will nor the ability to put a stop to these criminal goings-on."

At this time of year the Rheiderland is home to many migrant species which spend part or all of the winter here. Energy is stocked up in order to prepare the birds for their journey south to winter quarters or, for northern visitors, the long haul back to their breeding grounds. The international significance of the migration is signalled by the declaration of important areas in the Rheiderland as nature reserves.

According to Bergmann "We can hardly demand or expect South Europeans and Africans to spare our migrants when we ourselves are unable to guarantee our guests a hunting-free winter." In awareness of the importance of such rest areas, the NABU and German Hunting Society (DJV) produced 'Joint Recommendations for the Protection of Biological Diversity' in 1998. These recommendations include, amongst others, 'The disturbance of breeding, roosting and overwintering bird communities, in particular waders and waterfowl through sporting or hunting activities, is in principle to be avoided.'

The extensive breaking of the law and agreements has a darker side. Matthias Bergmann suspects that the persecution of the wild geese has little to do with scaring off of the birds or illegal hunting by a few black sheep in the hunting community. The real motives are money and politics. "In some parts of the Rheiderland it is not accepted that so-called 'grazing compensation contracts' are restricted to those areas where damage by feeding geese can be scientifically verified" Bergmann states. Owners of such property are compensated by the Lower Saxony Environment Ministry for their contribution to bird protection. Many landowners however go empty-handed as 'grazing' damage cannot be proved. The joint study of the Environment and Agricultural Ministries made quite clear that damage occurred principally on fields frequented primarily by the Barnacle Goose; it was conclusively proved that White-fronted and Greylag Geese cause no such damage.

Bergmann reminds all concerned that: "It must not be forgotten that the hunt causes an enormous threat and stress for the birds and weakens them considerably." In the end the harassment and hunt achieve exactly the opposite of what they hope to avoid. The birds are compelled to take off more frequently and concentrate on the ever-decreasing safe areas. "The geese have learnt that humans are a deadly enemy and stay out of his way." The result is that the birds keep ever-increasing distance between themselves and human settlements or roads. "This leads" claims Bergmann "to a reduction of the feeding area of some 20% and the ensuing concentration is the cause of the lion's share of the total grazing damage.

The annual hunting of geese in Rheiderland and its tolerance of the by the responsible authorities in Leer is in the view of Matthias Bergmann a threat to the future of the international wildfowl transit area in the Dollart wetlands. The disregard of the law and ordinances by the hunters involved gives all hunters a bad name. The problem is no longer a legal one; the moral aspects are now in the forefront. "What use are scientific studies, laws, guidelines and joint recommendations when, in practice, they are not worth the paper they're written on?"

[Taken from a press statement by the NABU East Friesland. Questions to this matter should be directed to Matthias Bergmann Tel.: +49 (0) 4942/990149. Press photos for journalists can be sent free of charge as '*.tiff' (please state size and quality of picture required) from mailto:helmut.kruckenberg@nabu-ostfriesland.de - Subject: "Pressefoto Gaensejagd"]


The counter migration continues: Call from Switzerland for migration reports on the return of 9 species (8 of which breed regularly in CH) to Europe "online": Send reports on your first sightings of Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), Swift (Apus apus), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), Swallow (Hirundo rustica) und White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) to http://www.livemigration.net/de/index.htm The map of Europe will be updated daily. The more the merrier! – In Germany: Common Crane (Grus grus) reports continue from all over the country – A Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) in Saxony?


Threat to the future of the Wadden Sea through regional politics? Are the environmental organisations sufficiently active? All in POTGW 07/2000


~ The Species Protection Group 'Black tern' (Chlidonias niger) of Neubrandenburg" is now online @ http://members.xoom.com/Chlidonias/ and mailto:kjdonner@media-n.de

~ Nature reserve Boberg Depression, near Hamburg, new @

~ update of the nature reserve site 'Altmuehlsee' @ http://www.lbv.de/altmuehlsee with the new page "Aktuelle Vogelbeobachtungen" (New Sightings)

David Conlin
GermanBirdNet Berlin

david Conlin
Mobile: +49 172 394 6671
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