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Experts sound extinction alarm

Cuckoos feature in the Swiss "Spring Alive" campaign Keystone

Government inaction and obstruction is threatening increasing numbers of plants and animals in Switzerland, according to biodiversity experts.

This content was published on April 20, 2006 - 20:07

The warning came from the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds, which on Thursday launched a campaign to highlight the need for a concerted ecological strategy.

In October 2004 the Swiss Biodiversity Forum – a body comprising researchers from around the country – reported that although Switzerland was home to one of the most diverse plant and wildlife habitats in Europe, the number of species was shrinking at an alarming rate.

Figures showed that 224 species of plants and animals have disappeared over the past 150 years.

The authors called on the government to create a working group to come up with a strategy for saving various threatened species and to honour the commitment it made to protect wildlife when it signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994.

A year-and-half later, the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds is accusing the government of blocking all attempts to create such a strategy.

As a result the association has launched its own campaign with the slogan "Biodiversity – rich in variety".

Parliamentarian Ruedi Aeschbacher, the association's president, said neither the government's agricultural policy for 2007-2011 nor its revised forestry law made any mention of biodiversity.

He added that the cabinet rejects any parliamentary proposals concerning biodiversity despite Switzerland having international obligations.

Aeschbacher said Switzerland has been at the forefront of nature preservation for years – something that has contributed to its image as a prime holiday destination – but instead of protecting the country's standing, the government is putting it on the line.

Red list

The association said on Thursday that 70 per cent of amphibians are on the "red list" – a list of endangered species published by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union.

Things aren't looking much better for mammals or birds – 40 per cent of them are considered to be endangered.

It added that since the 19th century 90 per cent of meadows and marshland have disappeared – yet no red list for Swiss ecological habitats has been drawn up.

The five-year campaign by the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds aims to ensure that Switzerland gets a solid biodiversity strategy and that the loss of biological diversity is stemmed.

The campaign includes a map of all Switzerland's nature protection centres and the launch of "Spring Alive", a European scheme to monitor those harbingers of spring: cuckoos, barn swallows, white storks and swifts.

On a local level the association wants to coordinate projects with the population.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland preserves biodiversity through protected areas (a national park and designated lakes and waterways); a programme to restore ecosystems, and special action plans for endangered species.

Biodiversity is monitored through a special scheme, and legislation introduced a century ago ensures that forests are maintained at existing levels.

More recently a system of "corridors" has been developed to allow animals to move safely between protected areas.

The Swiss signed a United Nations convention on biodiversity in 1994.

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Key facts

The Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds acts for the conservation of biodiversity in Switzerland and, through its partnership with BirdLife International, all over the world.
It has almost 60,000 members and is the umbrella organisation of 20 national and cantonal associations with 500 local groups.

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