Pick of the German Week 09/2000........Poor End of Term Report for Schroeder & Co.....New River Disaster in Eastern Europe.....What's killing the Eiders?..

The Red Kite Milvus milvus
German Bird of the Year 2000

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First Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and Dunlin (Calidris alpina) in Hesse – Pale-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla hrota) in Friesland and Black Brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) on the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein – One, or is it two Yellow-billed Loons (Gavia adamsii) on Lake Constance? – Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) near Leer, Switzerland – Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) still present on Fehmarn and a Lesser-spotted Eagle - The first Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in Central Franconia, Bavaria. And the rest of Bavaria offers…a very early Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) and a Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica).

1. Environment I: Low Environmental Marks for Schroeder & Co 2. Environment II: New Environmental Catastrophe in Romania 3. Cause of Eider (Somateria mollissima) deaths still unclear 4. Flypast in Hesse – a small part of the Spring migration

The government appointed environment expert commission has deal out savage criticism at the lack of progress in most areas by the new Government with its Green Environment minister Juergen Trittin. In one of its most critical annual reports since its foundation in 1971, the commission was clearly disappointed in a coalition which was expected to put the environment high on their agenda. A higher priority for the environment since the 1998 election victory was not discernible. The only bright spots in an otherwise dull record were the introduction of the 'Ecology Tax' and the start of the long and complicated withdrawal from dependence on nuclear power. Indeed, there were new initiatives; for example in energy policy; but the long-awaited central environmental thread in all government policy areas was not detectable, even to the Greens. The environment stays put in its box. The Greens' favourite pastime following such, to them, fundamental debacles, is to take a running kick at their own minister, Trittin. It may be that, except in the matter of nuclear energy, he is not motivated enough. That however is more a reflection on the party as a whole whose original 'vert' has turned to 'verdigris'.

The Commission's 'end of term' report, the new Government will shortly name their own appointees, allocated marks as follows:

· Retreat from nuclear energy – A good start but future uncertain.
· Ecology Tax reform – introduced. Well done.
· Energy Regulation Law (choose-your-own) – Also introduced. Good.
· Solar energy programme '100, 000 roofs' – Introduced. More progress in this area please.
· Unified federal environmental regulations – Failed. Must try harder.
· Rewrite of the (ancient) Nature Production Law – Not even a draft. A poor effort!
· Reform of Product Packaging regulations – Nothing. Please hand in work on time.
· Review of the 'Fresh Air' regulations – Nothing yet. More effort is expected in this area.
· Climate protection: 25% less CO2 by 2005 – Not a chance. Go to the back of the class.
· Ecological modernisation in industrial and technological policies – so far progress in energy policy only. Lots of room for improvement here.

Five weeks after the cyanide poisoning in the rivers Tisza and Danube a new environmental catastrophe threatens. On Friday 10 March, a filter basin of the "Remin" Mine in Borsa, Romania, overflowed and deposited 20,000 tonnes of heavy metal contaminated sludge in the River Vaser. The Vaser is a tributary of the Viseu which flows into the Tisza. The authorities have issued a warning to the neighbouring countries of Hungary and Ukraine. The 10m high filter basin dike of the government-owned mine, weakened by heavy rainfall and thawing snow, collapsed over a length of 25m. Over the last 2 days 37litres of rain pro m² fell in Borsa. Last week the WWF declared the danger of poisoning over for the Danube Delta. In the rivers Tisza and Danube hundreds of tonnes of fish died and the otter population has probably been wiped out. The long-term effects of the Baia Mare and now the Borsa disasters are as yet incalculable.

Update 12. March

Today's press in Germany reports - mostly on the back page - on 'the day after' the new environmental disaster in Romania. According to the Romanian Environment Ministry, stretches of the Rivers Tisza, Vaser and Viseu are contaminated with zinc, lead and iron waste. The extent of the disaster is still unclear but the level of contamination is thankfully lower than feared.

Well that's a relief! A further 150 km of the River Tisza, spared by lying upstream from the inflow from Baia Mare, has 'only' had a minor injection of 22,000 tonnes of heavy metal sludge. A drop in the ocean compared with 100,000 tonnes of cyanide. I hope others read these figures as - t w e n t y t h o u s a n d - and - o n e h u n d r e d t h o u s a n d t o n n e s - imagine that in your local reservoir or trout-fishing stretch.

The WWF also sees the catastrophe as 'not so great' in relation to the cyanide wave. Like comparing the effects of a 10 and 100 kiloton warhead? "In the long term the heavy metal contamination could be dangerous for small organisms" in the words of a WWF spokesperson in Germany. And the bigger organisms that eat the small organisms, and the birds and mammals which... G o r d o n B e n n e t! Do they send them all to the Jamie Shea College of Elocution nowadays?

The article ends with "from the mine into the River Vasar, which 50 km downstream flows into...." Well it's all relative isn't it?

It's a long way away, and the rivers flow eastward (eventually); still I don't think we've heard the last of it - or similar disasters in Eastern Europe. It would be nice to hear from local environmentalists in the region.

The continuing finds of dead Eider (Somateria mollissima) Ducks on the Lower Saxony Wadden Sea have raised questions as to the cause of the tragedy, and increasing criticism of the lack of reaction by the responsible authorities. According to the Lower Saxony Dept. of Water Management and Coastal Protection in the Aurich region, the numbers of dead Eiders (Somateria mollissima) found in past weeks are more than double those found the previous year. The cause of death is stated to be the parasite «accanto cephalis profilicollis botulus». Quite why the ducks should suddenly be affected by this well-studied parasite is a mystery and is under further investigation. Other examinations speak of starvation as the immediate cause of death. Wasted breast muscles in otherwise healthy drakes point to other explanations for the unusually large number of deaths, which can not all be put down to the annual demise of the weaker birds in winter.

The mussel fishermen talk of unfounded panic and unscientific speculation among the environmentalists. Dead Eiders (Somateria mollissima) are a natural annual phenomenon. From a total of 80,000 to 100,000 Eiders (Somateria mollissima) in the Wadden Sea, 250 dead ducks is a very small number. Even if the numbers are higher this year, this is due to a general increase in the population. Other sources talk of over fishing of the main source of sustenance for the Eider (Somateria mollissima).

The mystery does not end with the cause of death. Whereas deaths of Eider (Somateria mollissima) have been reported from neighbouring Holland, and environmentalists on the island of Memmert alone have recorded over 300 dead birds, in less than 2 months, on a stretch of shoreline only 3 km long. Other records are noticeable by their absence. No figures have been issued for the other Friesian 'tourist' islands – is Memmert perhaps a duck cemetery like the mysterious elephant cemeteries in Africa?

143 Buzzard (Buteo buteo): 1 Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) (m): 12 Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus): 22 Red Kite (Milvus milvus): 1 Black Kite (Milvus migrans): 1 Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) (m): 120 Crane (Grus grus): 203 Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus): 1 Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola): 564 Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus): 4 Stock Dove (Columba oenas): 54 Skylark (Alauda arvensis): 11 Woodlark (Lullula arborea): 50 Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba ): 63 Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris): 3 Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus): 19 Redwing (Turdus iliacus): 1 Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros): 132 Rook (Corvus frugilegus): 412 Starling (Sturnus vulgaris): 2932 Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs): 50 Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla): 36 Linnet (Carduelis cannabina): 18 Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella): 76 Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Counted by: Martin Kraft

David Conlin
GermanBirdNet Berlin

David Conlin
Mobile: +49 172 394 6671
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