Re: birding-aus Birdwatching Tourism (long)

To: (Chris Dahlberg)
Subject: Re: birding-aus Birdwatching Tourism (long)
From: Hugo Phillipps <>
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 09:22:47 +1100
Hi Chris -

At 05:07  17/01/00 +1000, you wrote:
>Two years
>or so ago Birds Australia were asking for comments on an ecotourism policy.
>Do they have a comment or does Birds Australia have a policy on birdwatching
>tourism. I hope Hugo is not on holidays.

Alas, no.  Yes, we do have a policy now: GUIDELINES ON RECREATIONAL BIRD
WATCHING.  It has not received a lot of publicity because it is longish (4
A4 pages in the info sheet format I have put it in) and it is intended to
produce a shorter and more punchy summary version (not more than a page)
for the general public (in prep).  However, given the interest in the
current (and important) thread, I reproduce the full version below (hoping
it does not go over the Birding-Aus length limits).  It is not an instant
solution to the points raised by you, Denise and others - those will take
much time and effort by all of us.



Adopted by Birds Australia Council on 30 May 1999


Recreational Bird Watching:  This includes the full range of bird watching
activities which are undertaken primarily for the pleasure of the
participant and where there are no rewards to the participant other than
the intrinsic rewards of the activity.  Bird watching activities which have
a primary objective of contributing to scientific programs or are otherwise
designed to contribute to the knowledge of birds in the public domain are
classified as research for the purposes of this document and should be
conducted under the guidelines for the research project of which they form
a part.

Ecotourism:  This is nature-based tourism that involves interpretation of
the natural and cultural environment and ecologically sustainable
management of natural areas. As such it is socially responsible and fosters
environmental appreciation and awareness and the enjoyment of nature while
having minimal environmental impact.  The educational element, which
enhances understanding of natural environments and ecological processes
distinguishes it from adventure travel and sightseeing.  Tourism Facts no
16, May 1997.  Office of National Tourism.

1.      Purpose

The purpose of these guidelines is to increase awareness of the issues
associated with recreational bird watching and the impact that this may
have on birds.  The document will serve as guidelines to staff and members
of Birds Australia, commercial tour operators, and to members of the
general public who have an interest in birds and the environment.  It is
intended that these guidelines will assist commercial tour operators and
leaders in the development of tourist activities in ways which will
minimise any negative impacts of their activity but at the same time,
enhance the experience of their customers.

2.      Rationale

2.1     Recreational bird watching and tourist activities, if not conducted
with care and consideration, can have a major impact on the environment and
the plants and animals, which inhabit areas, visited during these
activities.  Often these impacts are unintended or are the result of
ignorance of the issues and unawareness of the potential to cause damage to
the environment.  Organisations such as Birds Australia can play a major
role in ameliorating or avoiding these negative impacts by providing
advice, setting ethical standards and by educating the public on these issues.

2.2     Commercial nature based tourism activities have been included within
the scope of this document as they may be regarded as primarily a
recreational activity (for the participants) under the leadership of a
professional guide who has a duty to promote the ethics of responsible bird
watching.  There is a continuum of nature based tourist activities ranging
from an individual going for a walk through to fully organised tourist
trips with expert guides.  Somewhere in the middle are trips organised by
clubs and societies which are usually led by an unpaid, volunteer guide.

2.3     The activities of professional or amateur ornithologists who are
working on recognised research projects are not considered directly in this
document as they are covered by research guidelines and subject to the
ethical review processes for research projects.

2.4     Positive impacts from nature based tourism include:
2.4.1   increased appreciation of the natural environment;
2.4.2   better understanding of the issues relating to the conservation of
natural communities or individual species;
2.4.3   an economic benefit to the human population living near focal points
for nature based tourism resulting in;
2.4.4   greater incentives for local communities to value and protect their
natural environment and
2.4.5   a healthy outdoor activity for the participants.

2.5     Negative impacts from nature based tourism include:
2.5.1   disturbance to species or individuals especially at critical times
such as when feeding, courting, resting or nesting;
2.5.2   damage to the environment caused by overuse or careless activities
2.5.3   drawing attention to species which may be desirable to illicit
wildlife traders
2.5.4   careless or unauthorised access to private property which may result
in damage to private property or interfere with the livelihood of the
property owner;
2.5.5   accidental or intentional introduction of alien species (e.g. weeds,
pathogens, feral animals) into areas where they do not already occur.

2.6     Tourists visiting sensitive environments may have an impact far greater
than their numbers would suggest.  The operators of commercial and
club-based tours are in an ideal position to educate the public on the
potential impacts of their activities and to demonstrate best practice
minimal impact tourism to their clients.

2.7     Birds Australia is the leading bird conservation organisation in
Australia and as such must take a lead in minimal impact bird observation.
Our members should be aware of the potential impact of their activities and
lead by example by taking steps to minimise the impact of their own

3       Individuals and small groups

Policy Statement

All birdwatchers have a responsibility to be informed about their activity,
to avoid causing any negative impacts on the birds that they are watching
and where possible to contribute to the future wellbeing of birds and the


3.1     To be fully informed about the birds being watched requires an
awareness of the ecology of the species including feeding, roosting and
breeding activities and the conservation issues which affect the survival
of the species.  By making full use of the knowledge available, responsible
bird watchers should make every effort to minimise the impact of their
activities on the species being observed.  For example, use knowledge of
nesting locations and the behaviour of birds to avoid disturbing nesting
birds instead of blundering in for a closer look.

3.2     Practice minimal impact bushwalking, camping and driving as outlined by
the conservation departments at state and national level.  These
recommendations should be seen as minimum standards for responsible
behaviour in the bush.  Take these practices with you when travelling
overseas but be prepared to adopt more stringent practices when necessary
to conform with local regulations and customs.

3.3     When beach-walking watch for and avoid ground-nesting birds (especially
waders and terns) and roosting shorebirds.  These species are often
vulnerable to disturbance.  Their cryptically coloured eggs and young may
be difficult to see but may be attacked by predators if the parents are
disturbed.  To minimise disturbance avoid walking or letting dogs run in
the zone between high tide and the vegetation where these birds nest and
avoid driving on beaches which provide nesting areas for shore birds.

3.4     Be informed about the location being visited.  Do not enter restricted
areas such as reference areas which are set aside to monitor the
undisturbed environment.  Respect the rights of all landowners and do not
enter private land without permission.  Remember that traditional lands may
be subject to additional regulations and respect the rights of traditional
owners to care for their land.  Regardless of the location, obey the laws
which govern access to the area being visited.

3.5     Do not draw attention to vulnerable species, particularly when they or
any other birds are at the nest.  Be aware that species which have value
for the illicit cage bird trade may be more vulnerable than their numbers
might suggest.  Frequent visits to a nesting site can attract the attention
of both natural predators and human predators in search of eggs or nestlings.

3.6     Record observations and contribute them to information repositories
such as wildlife atlases or ongoing studies such as the Birds Australia
Nest record Scheme. Alternatively analyse and publish your observations in
one of the ornithological journals.  This will add to personal enjoyment
and knowledge as well as placing valuable information in the public domain
where it can contribute to conservation planning and research.

3.7     The use of tapes of bird calls and of bird callers or other forms of
mimicry can distress the species whose call is being played and may disrupt
feeding and/or breeding activity.  Artificial bird calls should not be used
in or within earshot of locations where the land owner or manager has
requested that they not be used or where this may interfere with ongoing
research projects.  Tapes should not be played at individual birds for
extended periods of time and should not be played at louder volume than
that of the target bird.  The use of such devices should be kept to a
minimum, particularly in areas of high visitation by birders where play
back by other birders may well have occurred in the recent past.
Responsible use of tapes can be valuable in locating cryptic birds without
causing serious harm; however, it is a skilled activity and should not be
taken lightly.  If in doubt, avoid the use of tapes.

3.8     Spotlighting disturbs individual birds and animals which may be
sleeping or resting and may interfere with the night sight of nocturnal
species.  The effects of spotlighting have not been well studied; however
it is possible that dazzling by the spotlight may leave the individual bird
more susceptible to predation or of damaging itself as a result of
temporarily impaired vision.  In the absence of evidence to the contrary
birders should adopt a precautionary approach and keep the time that a bird
is held in the spotlight to a minimum i.e. for seconds rather than minutes.
 The use of lower intensity spotlights, red filters and directing the light
to the side of the subject will help reduce the discomfort to the bird.

3.9     The provision of artificial water and/or food supplies to birds has the
potential to increase populations of some species, perhaps at the expense
of others.  If food is provided it should not be continuously supplied so
that populations become dependant on the food supply.  Populations which
rely on an artificial food source may be unsustainably high and will
consequently be vulnerable to any interruption to the food supply.
Artificial feeding may also facilitate the spread of disease resulting from
unsanitary feeding conditions and increased contact between individuals due
to unnaturally high concentrations of birds.  Populations which are
dependant on artificial food sources also lose their wariness of humans and
become more vulnerable to acts of persecution.

3.10    Bird photography provides a way of increasing public appreciation and
understanding of birds and their habitat as well as providing enjoyment and
satisfaction to the photographer but  presents some additional problems
which are specific to the activity.
3.10.1  The wellbeing of the subject must be the main concern and every
effort should be made to ensure that the subject is not stressed in any way.
3.10.2  Particular care is required when photographing nesting birds which
may abandon the nest as a result of disturbance caused by the erecting of
hides and other equipment, by too frequent visits to the nest site or by
the sounds and flash of the camera.
3.10.3  Photographers should not 'garden' the area around the nest by
removing branches or other objects which may block a clear view of the nest
as this will increase the exposure of the nesting birds to the weather and
to predation.
3.10.4  There are no circumstances where modification to the nest or its
approaches in order to force the bird into a more photogenic position is
3.10.5  Photographers should keep a close watch on their subject and at the
first signs of stress back off and give the bird time to recover.

3.11    Adopt the Precautionary Principle - If your activity may cause an
adverse impact Don't Do It.

 4.     Commercial and Group Bird Watching

Policy Statement

Commercial and group tour operators have an obligation to promote ethical
birding and to educate their clients on the issues pertaining to the
conservation of birds.


4.1     The leader of group tours (commercial or club) must promote ethical
birding as outlined in section 4.

4.2     The client base for commercial tour operators is predominantly but not
exclusively from a comparatively wealthy urban population.  Participants
are usually well educated and are often middle-aged or older.  Most have
some knowledge of the subject of the tour but are keen to learn more.  This
provides a good starting point to promote the principles of ethical birding
and to publicise the issues pertaining to the conservation of birds.

4.3     Commercial tour operators/guides should take advantage of their
repeated visits to a particular location to contribute information to
ornithological databases and ongoing studies.  These people are also in an
ideal position to see and report problems which affect the survival of
birds and their livelihood, e.g. illicit capture of birds, environmental
degradation, etc.

4.4     In order to provide a satisfying experience for their clients which
does not damage the location being visited, ecotourism operators should:
4.4.1   seek to impart accurate information to their clients in such a way
that appreciation and respect for the places visited is enhanced;
4.4.2   promote an understanding of the area visited and the issues which
affect the management and long-term protection of the area;
4.4.3   help clients understand the factors which have resulted in rare or
endangered species having small and/or limited populations and ranges and
what is necessary to ensure the long term survival of the species.

4.5     When the opportunity arises or when the tour operator can incorporate
such activities in the tour, then the tour operator should:
4.5.1   involve their clients in activities, which have a positive impact on
the location being, visited (e.g. voluntary conservation works);
4.5.2   encourage participants to record observations, which may contribute
to the overall understanding of the area being visited
4.5.3   use local businesses to provide services for the tour group and be
seen to support local services and by so doing, give local communities an
incentive to conserve their natural environment.

5       Summary

Policy Statement

Birds Australia encourages and supports the use of ethical birdwatching
activities which provide enjoyment to the participants while having no
negative impacts on the birds and their environment.

Hugo Phillipps
Communications Coordinator
Birds Australia
415 Riversdale Road
HAWTHORN EAST 3123, Australia
Tel: (03) 9882 2622, fax: (03) 9882 2677
Email: <>
Web site: <>

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