Birds, Bee-eaters, Devastation, Conservation, Tourism

Published in Highlights

Hvar's natural environment is its greatest asset, for those who live on the island and its visitors.

Bee-eater Bee-eater Photo: John Ball

There is every reason to preserve it with care. Birds are a valuable part of Hvar Island's natural riches, as indeed they are in Dalmatia as a whole. But do we appreciate them enough? Are we doing enough to protect them? There are many people who observe and care about them, but sadly there are plenty of reasons for concern. Climate change is having a significant effect on bird species biodiversity, for instance in the seagulls, kingfishers and songbirds to be seen on Hvar. While it's difficult for individuals to have a visible impact on climate change, human activities which could be controlled are a major factor in altering our immediate surroundings. For instance with due care for Hvar's ponds and freshwater sources, one might see more of the kingfishers and wetland birds such as garganeys, ruffs, reed buntings, dunlins, cormorants, black-winged stilts, herons and others.

Dunlins might be more common with better care of Hvar's natural pools. Photo: Steve Jones

The famed golden eagle lives mainly in the northern parts of Croatia, but Hvar does have its share of fine birds of prey, including hen harriers, kestrels, buzzards, owls, Scops owls, goshawks and sparrowhawks. Birds are a real draw for the numerous tourists who love nature, and many birdwatching enthusiasts come to Hvar to see the species which are not to be found in their home countries. Steve Jones, an Englishman who lives in Dol and has been observing Hvar's birdlife for many years, has been producing a valuable record of bird behaviour on Hvar. For instance, robins and black redstarts have been seen to over-winter on the island, whereas in other countries and even other parts of Croatia their wintering habits are different.

Black Redstarts have over-wintered on Hvar. Photo: Steve Jones

Most of all, birdwatchers from other countries are atracted by the goldfinches, firecrests, goldcrests, hoopoes, golden orioles and bee-eaters. Bee-eaters, for instance, visit the  environs of Jelsa every year, usually arriving in April. They always establish their nests in sandy ground in the same place, year on year, and spend the summer catching insects until the time comes to depart at the endof the season. 'Eco Hvar' often receives inquiries as to the best place to see these exquisite birds, especially from the United Kingdom, and quite often the inquiries are followed up by visits.

Bee-eater in flight. Photo: John Ball

John Ball, a highly experienced birdwatcher from the UK was delighted, reporting after his visit to Jelsa that this first viewing of the bee-eaters was extra special: ".. these beautiful birds, a first time for me and an adrenaline surge experience." He went on to add:  "My wife and I enjoyed our second visit to Hvar [in 2018] and will undoubtedly return and the third visit cannot come quickly enough." However, the possibility of a visit in 2020 was ruled out because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Bee-eater: a powerful draw for birdwatchers. Photo: John Ball

Keen birdwatchers Will Rose and Eugénie Dunsten, also from the UK, reported in like vein after a visit in 2017: "We keep talking about that Bee-Eater site. What a way to see them for the first time. You'll have a great time studying them in that spot. ...Hvar did prove the best island for spots [bird sightings]. In Jegodna we saw a good few red-backed shrikes and Turtle doves. I've decided it was a Caspian tern that was fishing by our beach. A great spot was a Short-toed Eagle flying high over the ridge. I saw it in the binoculars and its pale underside and dark head were clearly visible. We also took a walk along the cliff path from Jegodna to Sveta Nedilja. We had a great seafood lunch at the marina and on the way back up to the road we had wonderful views of a pair of golden orioles. I got a dodgy pic, but we really did see them very well in the pines. Was so pleased to get a good sighting....We definitely would love to return again next year. Will aim for May when the birds are booming and the tourists aren't in full swing!"

Will and Eugenie birdwatching with Steve, July 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In 2020, when Covid-19 restrictions made travel from the UK all but impossible, Will and Eugénie regretted not being able to come to Hvar: "...what a great place Hvar is for wildlife...Hope you have some bee eaters and orioles to look at. I expect we won’t see any for quite some time so do enjoy them for us!"

Golden Oriole. Photo: Steve Jones

So where are the Goldfinches, Eurasian Siskins, Serins, Linnets, Greenfinches, Red Crossbills?

Sadly, every year there are fewer and fewer birds to be seen on Hvar. Steve Jones has reported this year after year, and Jelsan Ivica Drinković confirms this tragic truth from his own experience. As a youngster in Jelsa he was aware of great flocks of birds overhead. Later, he went to Germany for work, and when he returned nine years later in 2005, he was immediately conscious that there were substantially fewer birds. Some species have even disappeared. Ivica spends much of his free time hiking in the countryside around Jelsa, and reports that the following species are increasingly rarely to be seen, some of them not at all: Goldfinches (grdelin in dialect, carduelis carduelis), Eurasian Siskins (lugarin in dialect, carduelis spinus), Serins (frzelin in dialect, serinus serinus), Common Linnets (faganel in dialect, acanthis cannabina), Greenfinches (verdun in dialect, chloris chloris), and Red Crossbills (Croatian krstokljun, loxia crvirostra).

Goldfinch. Photo: Steve Jones

The reasons for this decline are complex. Some factors are very hard to influence, notably climate change. But there are many which we can indeed control, prevent and reverse. On Hvar there was a long-standing tradition of trapping songbirds, especially goldfinches, during their migration, and locking them in tiny cages to sing their hearts out from sadness. Eco Hvar receives complaints, written and verbal, from foreign visitors who notice and are shocked to see these poor birds cooped up in this inhumane way. The practice of trapping wild birds has been outlawed in the last few years, but, tragically, some unprincipled islanders continue the practice even in 2020.

Trapped in a tiny cage.

Many birds, especially the bee-eaters, have lost their habitats. Just outside Jelsa there were two large sandy areas where bee-eaters nested happily for years, but they were excavated for building materials and the number of bee-eaters to be seen around Jelsa has declined dramatically as a result.

Bee-eaters' former home devastated. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The most significant factor in the decline of Hvar's birds is undoubteedly the massive use of pesticides of all kinds. Eco Hvar has been warning for years about the dangers of pesticides for birds and other wildlife. Herbicides can poison ground-nesting birds, both directly and by poisoning the worms and other soil organisms that are their main food source. Insecticides obviously kill the insects which many birds live on. The larvicides used on many of Hvar's natural pools poison the food sources for the water birds. Fungicides too, which are used in great quantities during vegetation, especially of the vines, also have highly damaging effects on birds. Local farmers and gardeners are not the only pesticide users, as local authorities also use herbicides and inseciticdes as well as rodenticides. For instance, 3 hectares of woodland around Hvar Town have been routinely sprayed every year with Bti, an insecticide which is known to affect reproduction in birds. Also, in all the local Council areas insecticides are sprayed along all the streets at least three times during the summer season. The pyrethroid insecticides used are not only poisonous to insects of all kinds (not just the target mosquitoes), but also to cats and dogs. And substances have been used which are not authorized in the EU or in Croatia, for instance Cypermethrin-based poisons in 2020. Unbelievable.

An alluring Kingfisher. Photo: Steve Jones

The combined and cumulative effects of all these poisons year after year are creating an ever-increasing environmental crisis.

Proud Kestrel. Photo: Steve Jones

In the past, the needs of birds have been respected. Miljenko Smoje, a well-regarded journalist from Split, described in his book 'Dalmatinska pisma' (p.117) how "houses built in Split in older times used to leave crevices in the walls... on the grounds that a house where birds don't want to live is cursed!" Individuals today also take care of the birds - and worry about their declining numbers - but much more awareness is needed. If we do nothing to halt the decline, we will lose an invaluable part of the natural chain, as every bird has an important part to play. The saddest comment on the situation came to Eco Hvar in 2019 from an experienced birdwatcher, who said it was no longer possible to recommend Hvar to birdwatchers, as there was now relatively little for them to see. Following the lead of those of our forebears who respected and loved birds, as well as nature in general, we need to do all we can to bring back the rich diversity of birds and other wildlife which once existed on Hvar, as in other parts of Dalmatia. With the return of these natural beautiful assets, Hvar will become once again a destination of choice for discerning, nature-loving visitors.

© Mirko Crnčević / Dobra Kob 2020

This article is based on a piece by Mirko Crnčević, published in Dobra Kob, July 2020 under the title '„Pernati“ Turizam Hvarske pčelarice privlače Engleze', translated by Vivian Grisogono

You are here: Home highlights Birds, Bee-eaters, Devastation, Conservation, Tourism

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Tiny particles including tyre dust found in ice cores stretching back 50 years, showing global plastic contamination

    Nanoplastic pollution has been detected in polar regions for the first time, indicating that the tiny particles are now pervasive around the world.

    The nanoparticles are smaller and more toxic than microplastics, which have already been found across the globe, but the impact of both on people’s health is unknown.

    Continue reading...

  • Morrison government hails engineering milestone but researchers raise concerns and say it could increase emissions

    Australia will export its first load of liquefied hydrogen made from coal in an engineering milestone which researchers say could also lock in a new fossil fuel industry and increase the country’s carbon emissions.

    Under the $500m Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project, hydrogen will be made in Victoria’s LaTrobe valley from brown coal and transported aboard a purpose-built ship to Japan, where it will be burned in coal-fired power plants.

    Sign up to receive an email with the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

    Continue reading...

  • The best of this week’s wildlife pictures, including beluga whales, a ‘snow fairy’ and two egrets hitching a lift

    Continue reading...

  • Government considers scrapping scheme that pays for energy efficiency measures for poorer households

    More than 30,000 jobs would be put at risk if the government were to scrap the energy bill levy that pays for home insulation improvements for poor households, the industry has warned.

    Ministers are mooting an end to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), a £1bn levy on energy bills that pays for energy efficiency measures for people on low incomes. The energy price cap is expected to rise by about £700 to £2,000 for the average household bill in April, after a surge in gas prices.

    Continue reading...

  • Stunning images from the 10th year of the worldwide Ocean Art underwater photo competition. Thousands of entries from 81 countries were judged with the winners including nine taken in Australia

    Continue reading...

  • Some rightwingers claim renewables have increased costs, but Energy UK blames over-reliance on gas

    Energy companies want the government to implement policies to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, the industry’s leader has said, despite claims from some on the political right that high energy prices should spark a rethink.

    Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy UK, which represents the industry, said: “The government should press on with net zero policies. That’s something they still need to do. We are missing the carbon budgets.”

    Continue reading...

  • Stamford, Lincolnshire: It’s the coldest night in winter. I almost enjoy the sense of it working its way inside me

    It’s the coldest night of the winter. Just hours ago, the world was agleam with wet cold, now – with the dark – it’s solid cold. Things that rustled now rattle, and the grass is in a beautiful rigour of felty frost. It catches the moonlight and sparkles, a miracle that turns the colourless and drab suddenly starkly beautiful under the light of the dark.

    Clear winter nights like this are wonderful for stars. That, and to just go out and feel the cold and its tight silence around you. I stand and breathe deep, exhaling stiff, granular steam. And I start to feel it as it works its way in. Fingers, feet, nose. Then deeper, like an alarm of rising volume. Stand still enough for long enough and it takes hold of your core, a sickly pain, that – left long enough – will stop your life.

    Continue reading...

  • The deal to build an electric car battery plant near Blyth will bring up to 3,000 jobs to the area by 2028

    The UK government will invest £100m in Britishvolt as the car battery manufacturing startup seeks to build Britain’s first large-scale “gigafactory” in the north-east of England.

    The government’s Automotive Transformation Fund will invest alongside asset management company Abrdn and its majority-owned property investment arm, Tritax, to fund a sale and leaseback deal for the huge building that will house the electric car battery factory, near Blyth in Northumberland.

    Continue reading...

  • With meat consumption twice the global average, citizens of EU27 have to reconcile environmental concerns and culinary traditions

    A row over meat consumption in Spain over the last month is just the most recent eruption of the debate all over Europe, as the continent grapples with making its famous cuisines more sustainable.

    Food is inextricably intertwined with national identity for countries in continental Europe; a good steak, with perfect fritesstacked beside it; a plate of wafer thin carpaccio, drizzled with dressing or plain old olive oil; wurst, served with good mustard; jamón ibérico laced with creamy white fat.

    Continue reading...

  • Exclusive: Officers say cuts and operational decisions have made England’s regulator ‘toothless’

    Staff at England’s Environment Agency say it has been cut back to such an extent that they cannot do their jobs and the regulator is no longer a deterrent to polluters.

    Three officers at the EA have described to the Guardian and Ends Report how they are increasingly unable to hold polluters to account or improve the environment as a result of the body’s policies.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

  • In partnership with Conservation International, chefs in Hawaiʻi are cooking up creative ways to control invasive species populations.

  • Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

    1. 1,000 experts & leaders say “climate action failure” is perceived as top global risk

    Climate change and environmental degradation are among the gravest threats to humanity, says a new report.

    The story:The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risk Report this year finds that the top five long-term risks to our world are all environmental — with climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss ranking as the most severe. Risks were gathered from surveys with approximately 1,000 experts and leaders, Ashira Morris reports for World War Zero. Though climate change has already arrived “in the form of droughts, fires, floods, resource scarcity and species loss, among other impacts,” current climate commitments are not sufficient to meet the challenge, according to the report. 

    The big picture: “The World Economic Forum finds public and private-sector leaders in broad agreement … decisive climate action cannot wait,” Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan told World War Zero. “To date, the industrialized world has consistently failed to make good on their climate promises. As we look ahead to COP27,” — the international climate negotiations set for later this year in Egypt — “governments, companies and financial institutions must not only increase their own decarbonization ambitions — they must make fairness a priority [for] communities on the frontlines of climate change.” 

    Read more here.



    2. The great Siberian thaw 

    Russia’s frozen lands contain vast amounts of carbon, which is being released as the permafrost melts.

    The story:In northeastern Russia’s boreal forests, where permafrost can be a kilometer deep, annual temperatures have risen by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution — twice the global average, Joshua Yaffa writes for The New Yorker. Climate change, exacerbated by deforestation and wildfires, is melting the permafrost. As it thaws, once-frozen organic matter — everything from woolly mammoth remains to tree stumps — is releasing “a constant belch of carbon dioxide and methane,” writes Yaffa. This fuels a dangerous feedback loop: Greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere lead to higher temperatures, which in turn contribute to further melting these frozen soils.  

    The big picture:Irrecoverable carbon” refers to the vast stores of carbon in nature that are vulnerable to release from human activity and, if lost, could not be restored by 2050 — when the world must reach net-zero emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Due in part to its massive land area, Russia contains the most irrecoverable carbon of any country, with high concentrations in its boreal peatlands and forests, according a recent studyby Conservation International, which mapped irrecoverable carbon around the world — providing policymakers with the clearest view yet on the areas that most need to be protected. 

    One mountainous region, the East Russian taiga in the southeast corner of the county, contains 2 percent of Earth’s irrecoverable carbon — and the last Siberian tiger range — making it a priority for protection, experts say.

    Read more here.



    3. A third of commodity-hungry firms have no deforestation policy — report

    Companies that supply the world’s commodities are also driving deforestation, according to a new report. 

    The story:Protecting forests is critical to limiting climate change, yet a third of the 350 companies most involved in commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil lack policies to ensure their products do not contribute to deforestation, reports Simon Jessop for Reuters. According to Global Canopy’s annual “Forest 500” report, 93 of the world's 150 leading financial institutions — providing US$ 5.5 trillion in finance — do not have a deforestation policy covering their lending to companies in key commodity supply chains. 

    The big picture:Each year, large swaths of tropical forests are destroyed to make room for palm oil, cattle, soy and other commodity-driven agriculture. But this destruction of nature comes at a climate cost; tropical deforestation accounts for 8 percentof annual emissions, equivalent to those released by the entire European Union. 

    In November, at the UN global climate summit known as COP26, more than 100 countries — accounting for about 86 percent of the world’s forests — committed to stop deforestation on their lands by the end of this decade. In addition, more than 30 financial institutions pledged to eliminate deforestation driven by agriculture from their portfolios and increase investments in nature-based solutions by 2025. 

    “The new political space created at COP26 can pave the way for stronger and more broadly applicable legal frameworks … but these proposals could be strengthened, and must be enforced, with clear accountability and penalties for breaches,” according to the “Forest 500” report.

    Read more here.



    Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

    Cover image: Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park (© Mike Lewelling, National Park Service)

  • In case you missed it: Carbon offsets are helping protect mangroves and support local communities in Colombia, a vacuum could help pull genetic information for wildlife from the sky and more.

  • The UN climate talks (COP26) yielded key climate commitments. Our experts weigh in on the main takeaways — plus needed next steps.

  • Earth is teetering perilously close to a tipping point — but it’s not too late to bring us back from the edge, says Conservation International’s Chief Scientist Johan Rockström in a new Netflix film.

  • In case you missed it: Solar and wind power gain traction as global coal consumption plummets, violence and extreme weather pushed millions from their homes last year, and a growing number of people care about protecting nature.

  • Learn how Indonesia has taken incredible steps to protect these fascinating — and valuable — creatures.

  • In a historic announcement, the global civil aviation industry has paved the way for airlines to help neutralize their climate footprint by protecting nature.

  • In case you missed it: Pope Francis is imploring people to protect nature, the world’s largest coral reef is facing mass die-offs and restoring one-third of the Earth’s most degraded ecosystems is crucial to slowing climate change.

  • In case you missed it: Global greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly rising as countries ease COVID-19 restrictions, plastic pollution is growing across national parks in the western United States, and new research revealed that heat and air pollution could cause birthing problems for pregnant women, especially for Black mothers.