Sunday 11 November 2012

Slovak conference highlights problems across Europe for birds and bats in buildings.

This post highlights the growing problem of insulation in buildings and the negative impact on Swifts and bats. Helen Hodgson attended a conference in Slovakia which discussed this issue.

Contributed by Helen

The Slovak Ministry of the Environment and State Nature Conservancy hosted an international conference in Zvolen, central Slovakia, 25-26 October 2012, to discuss the problems faced by Swifts and bats in buildings. The intention was to share experiences and to exchange ideas for solutions to these problems

Zvolen town square
As a result of EU initiatives, the installation of insulation, which poses a serious threat to building-dependent species, increases each year.  The requirement to save energy and to create jobs to stimulate economic growth has driven this increase.

There are EU directives to protect wildlife, but the application, in practice, of protective measures falls far short of what is needed to halt the decline of Swift and bat populations.  This is a common problem across Europe. A great deal depends on the energy and enthusiam of individuals, both volunteers and people in official positions to ensure that planning conditions are met.  In addition, it was agreed that the penalties for infringements to planning laws are insignificant: in too many cases, Swifts and bats are killed or made homeless.

The Regional Association for Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development (BROZ) in partnership with the Slovak Ornithological Society, BirdLife Slovakia and the Slovak Bat Conservation Society have received part EU funding from LIFE+ Nature & Biodiversity Programme, a four year undertaking now in its ninth month.  During these nine months, 4,000 buildings in 100 towns have so far been checked for populations of Swifts and bats. This work involves a great number of people, many of whom are volunteers.  

Seminars for state administrators and people in the construction industry are under way; practical and simple guidelines are being prepared and laws are being reviewed. 

So far, more than 1,000 nest-boxes have been installed and 2000 original nesting possibilities retained after insulation – to compensate for loss of nest sites; these will be monitored.  However, it is felt that more needs to be done to involve the general public via PR and the media, as there is still a lot of ignorance of these issues. 

A further aim of the project is to strengthen cooperation between state institutions, investors, the construction industry and local communities.

This worthwhile conference was well attended by approximately a hundred and fifty delegates from around Europe (8 countries) and the papers presented were interesting and informative. 

There are lessons to be learned all over Europe, as the unintended consequences of policies to conserve energy result in major problems for our urban wildlife.

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