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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

1 July 2002

Over 7,000 Australians Take Birdwatching To New Heights

Thousands of volunteers from around Australia have been watching, studying and recording the vast array of Australia's birds in order to produce the New Atlas of Australian Birds. The Atlas is Australia's largest volunteer environmental mapping project, made possible due to $1.2 million from the Howard Government's Natural Heritage Trust.

The Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today expressed his gratitude to the thousands of volunteers who worked on the Atlas by presenting regional organisers with a special certificate recognising their efforts during a ceremony at the Ramsar-listed wetland at Werribee in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Dr Kemp said the results of the project, begun in 1998, will assist in better understanding the distribution patterns of Australia's birds and in targeting our conservation effort for vulnerable and threatened species, such as the Wedge-tailed Eagle, Orange-bellied Parrot, Southern Cassowary and the Star Finch.

"Thanks to funding of $1.2 million over four years from the Natural Heritage Trust, Birds Australia has collected invaluable information on the status and habitat needs of birds across Australia," Dr Kemp said.

"This is a great example of how the community and government can work together - with the Commonwealth providing funding from the Natural Heritage Trust and the community their enthusiasm and expertise. This is what the Howard Government's Natural Heritage Trust is all about.

"As part of the Atlas project, over 7,000 amateur and professional birdwatchers have submitted an amazing 4.3 million bird sightings and 255,000 bird surveys. These efforts have produced records for 759 bird species from over 130,000 locations that span the length and breadth of Australia, from Cape York and the Great Sandy Desert to Port Arthur in southern Tasmania.

"I would also like to recognise the significant resources that the volunteer community put into this project, both in time and in purchasing specialist equipment.

"Birds are an integral and much admired part of the Australian landscape and are excellent indicators of the health of the natural environment. A number of studies have shown that those places where the diversity of bird species has been maintained will be those where the other elements of biodiversity, such as vegetation, mammals, reptiles and insects, will also be thriving.

"The New Atlas found that 37 per cent of birds were recorded more frequently than 20 years ago. For example, fruit-eaters such as rosellas, pied currawongs and satin bowerbirds have increased, partly as a result of horticultural expansion, and partly as a result of greater rainfall and fruit availability. Honeyeaters, pigeons and wet forest species also increased because of higher rainfall and better conditions over much of Australia.

"However, declines in habitat are a serious threat to our bird species. The 2001 State of the Environment report identified the clearing of native vegetation as the single most significant threat to terrestrial biodiversity.

"The loss and depletion of plants and ecological communities through clearance destroys the habitat for thousands of other species. For example, between 1000 and 2000 birds permanently lose their habitat for every 100 hectares of woodland that is cleared.

"While a number of bird species such as honeyeaters, finches and waterbirds increased in number due to favourable rainfall conditions, the New Atlas found that ground-dwelling species such as Emus and Brolga and birds that breed in the temperate woodlands have declined in frequency. These results highlight the need for careful management of woodland habitats and sustainable grazing and fire regimes.

"The New Atlas of Australian Birds found that birds will return to sites where trees have been planted, thus the extensive revegetation works undertaken through programs such as the Natural Heritage Trust are helping bring birds back to degraded or cleared environments.

"Through the Natural Heritage Trust, almost 400,000 Australians have become involved in conserving the environment in the past six years, planting 29 million seedlings, replanting and protecting 780,000 hectares of native vegetation, protecting or regenerating 480,000 hectares to conserve native species and erecting 19,000 kilometres of protective fencing," Dr Kemp said.

The conservation and scientific value of the New Atlas is considerable and has a range of applications, including identifying conservation 'hotspots'. The results will be of use to all levels of government, schools, community groups, scientific institutions, farmers and landholders around Australia.

"Protecting natural ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity are key elements of sustainable agriculture in this country. As indicator species, the presence of birds indicates the presence of a range of other species, and thus the ecological health of the farm," Dr Kemp said.

"In addition, birds play a critical role in maintaining tree health, which provide shelter for stock and wind breaks. A major cause of eucalypt dieback on farms in eastern Australia is insect attack, yet a healthy bird community removes between 50 and 70 per cent of leaf-feeding insects from farm trees and helps keep those trees alive."

The New Atlas of Australian Birds follows on from the first Atlas of Australian Birds, which documented the distribution and relative abundance of Australian bird species between 1977 and 1981. An updated Atlas was needed because of the many changes that have occurred within the Australian environment in the last 20 years. The first Atlas database increases the value of the second as the two surveys provide an insight into long-term trends and comparisons rather than just providing a snapshot.

Data from the New Atlas of Australian Birds can be accessed from the Birds Australia national office for the cost of extraction by calling (03) 9882 2622. For more information, please visit the Birds Australia web site at:

The following New Atlas fact sheets are available on the Environment Australia web site at: along with a range of high-resolution images of Australian birds.

Media contacts:
Catherine Job Dr Kemp's Office (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Dr Mike Weston Birds Australia (03) 9882 2622 or 0417 344 985

We also have higher quality tif versions of the photos below. To save the tif files, right click on the link and select 'Save Link As' (Netscape) or 'Save Target As' (Internet Explorer).

rainbow lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet (Photo: Arthur Mostead)

southern cassowary

Southern Cassowary (Photo: Wet Tropics Management Authority)

tawny frogmouth

Tawny Frogmouth (Photo: Peter Griffieon)

southern emu wren

Southern Emu-Wren (Photo: Mt Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren Recovery Program)

bird atlasser Bill Kromwyk

Bird Atlasser Bill Kromwyk participating in a Coxen's Fig Parrot survey. (Photo: Mick Fendley)

Images from the Launch of the New Atlas of Australian Birds

(Photographs courtesy Birds Australia)

Dr Kemp delivering speech at the launch of the New Atlas of Australian Birds

Dr Kemp delivering speech at the launch of the New Atlas of Australian Birds

Dr Kemp presents Atlasser with certificate of appreciation

Dr Kemp presents Atlasser with certificate of appreciation

Dr Kemp with Tawny Frogmouth and handler

Dr Kemp with Tawny Frogmouth and handler

Commonwealth of Australia