Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trouble in the saltmarsh

As you might have noticed, in recent weeks my post-rate has dropped dramatically. This is a result of the little time I have for birding during the most exciting birding period in Israel, when mouthwatering sibes can show up on any bush. The main reason for this is my increased time consumption in a campaign to protect the last saltmarsh in Israel, at Kikar Sdom, home to the last remaining population of Nubian Nightjars in Israel.

Nubian Nightjar
This unique, patchy habitat was common only 20 years ago along the Arava Valley, but increased cultivation destroyed all saltmarshes but this one, and overpumping of groundwater altered the hydrology of this fragile ecosystem. The main reason why the Sdom saltmarsh wasn't cultivated up till now is because the valley there is a big minefield.

I have been involved in conservation of this ecosystem since 2004, when I started my research on the nightjars. In recent years, I have been leading a campaign, as part of my work for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to protect the decreased and degraded habitat remaining down in the Rift Valley, south of the Dead Sea. In recent weeks, the campaign reached its' climax, when a plan promoted by the regional council, to cultivate practically all the remaining habitat, is being processed by the local planning authorities. Unfortunately, the regional council fails to understand its role in protecting its natural resources. To my point of view, they even fail to understand that the future of the existence of sustainable communities along the Arava Valley depends not on more and more cultivation, but on conservation and protection of natural resources, ecosystems and habitats.
Unfortunately, while taking part in endless meetings to try and find a sustainable solution to this conflict, the local farmers don't stand still. On Sunday, while showing the remaining habitat to a group of local experts, I noticed that another 10 hectares of pristine saltmarsh were cultivated recently, this time with the aid of the military that cleared the mines. This developement was carried out without the necessry permits, and is an action that only elevated mistrust between the different parties in this conflict. I sent the data out immediately to the local law enforcement people, and to the media, but of course that's too late.

Two nightjar territories less

What happens next? I will continue, together with my partners, to work on this in two aspects. First, to continue negotiations with the regional council and the local farmers to try and reach a sensible agreement on the future of the saltmarsh. But simultaneously, we will use all possible tools we own as a powerful NGO, to kick their asses, both in the planning meetings and in the media.
But at the moment, the situation looks very grim. For all those birders who have already seen the nightjars with or without me in Israel, you might be very lucky as potentially next year there is no saltmarsh and there are no Nubian Nightjars left in Israel. I still have the faith that with solid data, dedication and cooperation between various organizations, we can reach considerable achievements in this campaign, but it's gonna be a tough one.
I will keep posting about this in the near future.


  1. Good luck Yoav! Thank you for working so hard to protect this awesome habitat!

  2. I wish you the best of luck Yoav. I wish the birders in Britain could give some support.

  3. Hi, I'm a Swedish birder visiting Israel early December. I wanted to email you a question or two but cannot fins your email here on the blog. If you don't mind me asking a few questions, please drop me an email at klacke@hyber.org