Open Mic: Walking for Turkish Wildlife
by Nate Swick
At the Mic: Tristan Reid
Tristan is a birder with a general interest in natural history; but most of all he is a passionate conservationist with a particular affiliation to Turkey. He has worked as a warden at a range of nature reserves in the UK. He now works as a freelance ecologist and writer.
I once vowed never to go birding abroad until I had seen all of the UK. I guess having been a birder and ecologist in Britain for more years than I care to remember I have seen most of it. Still, there are many off islands I have not yet visited. Well you can say I broke my vow when I had a fantastic trip to Spain with friends a couple of years ago. On my return having seen some amazing birds, enjoyed many memorable experiences and survived the 40 degrees heat of a Spanish July I was one happy birder. I thought to myself, great I have birded abroad, no harm done! Of course this was not true; I had my first experience of birding outside the UK and I wanted more!
So last year I visited Turkey with the same group of friends. We had a loose plan that involved hiring a car and touring central and southern areas of the country. This trip was to be life changing in ways I could have never anticipated. We saw so many birds; Caspian Snowcock, Red-fronted Serin, Crimson-winged Finch, Radde’s Accentor, See See Partridge, Upcher’s Warbler, Iraq Babbler, White-throated Robin, Dead Sea Sparrow; well I could go on and on! We saw over 235 species in ten days; 40 of which were life birds for me! It wasn’t just the birds, we saw Painted Agama, Eastern Hedgehog, Egyptian Mongoose, Anatolian Souslik, Spur-thighed Tortoise and some many other amazing creatures. I was like a kid in a candy store! I was fast falling in love with this country. The biodiversity was astounding, the scenery was the stuff of dreams and the people were the most friendly and welcoming that I had ever had the pleasure of meeting! There was no doubt about it, Turkey owned my heart!
On returning from Turkey I was of course sad to leave in many ways, but elated by my experiences. However I was about to be brought crashing down to earth.
I soon learned of the shocking situation in Turkey relating to both the countries wildlife and its rural communities. The government has sold of all of Turkey’s water ways to private corporations. There are now over 1,700 Hydroelectric Power Plant and 2,000 dams either in construction or being planned. The Turkish government wants to be at full capacity by 2025. These developments will only leave 10% of Turkey’s water unaffected. It is also estimated that 2,000,000 people will be forced to migrate. With no stringent environmental impact assessments or social impact assessments being carried out; this is both a biodiversity and humanitarian catastrophe. There are currently 305 key biodiversity areas recognised in Turkey; 185 of these will be affected by these developments.
Turkey holds some very significant populations; here is a brief summary:
- 30% of the global population of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis (which has a global population of just several hundred pairs – please go to Talking Naturally for more information )
- 25% of the European breeding population of the Endangered White-headed Duck
- more than 10% of the global population of the Endangered Egyptian Vulture (a species which now only really survives in large numbers on Yemen’s Socotra Island)
- more than 30% of the global population of European Rollers
- more than 70% of the global population of the near Turkish endemic and Near Threatened Krueper’s Nuthatch
- and more than 90% of the global population of the Cinereous Bunting
While the country has no endemic bird species, Turkey has five endemic mammals (mountains here still apparently hold the Anatolian or Asia Minor Leopard Panthera pardus tulliana), has 52 endemic freshwater fish, 13 endemic reptiles, one third of Turkish plant species (30,6 %) are endemic to Turkey and the nearby Aegean Islands (which include perhaps 50 endemic (of 175 in total) orchid species, many of which are already threatened), and a host of rare or threatened species spread across all forms of life.
Okay, so this news made me physically sick. This is when I realised this latest trip abroad would have a massive impact on my life. I knew I had to do something to raise awareness of this situation and help raise funds for the Birdlife International partner Doğa Derneği (http://www.dogadernegi.org/). I knew I had to do something that would grab people’s attention! Now although I have always worked with wildlife (from nature reserve warden to ecologist) I have never been a conservation activist! I guess you could say I have admired tattoos from a far, but never really considered them for myself!. My physique is more akin to that of Homer Simpson than Brad Pitt; so I always reckoned that tattoos wouldn’t look that good on me! However this was different, it wasn’t about how cool I would or wouldn’t look; it was about drawing attention to the Turkish situation! So I decided to get over twenty species of iconic Turkish birds tattooed onto my arms and hands. I know tattoos are not to everyone’s taste; but I wasn’t concerned about what people thought of them. The key point was that it grabbed people’s attention. It was a good way of raising awareness.
At the time of writing I have nineteen species of bird permanently inked onto my arms and hands. I have raised over £3,000 for the cause (via: http://www.justgiving.com/givingmyrightarm). Perhaps more importantly, there are a lot more people now aware of the destruction happening to Turkey’s wildlife and rural communities.
This has been a life-changing journey for me without a shadow of a doubt. The journey is still on-going of course.
I will be back at the Tattoo Studio in a few days’ time; I will be having another two birds added all being well. Whilst I am still focusing on the present I have an eye to the future.
This project has taught me many things; but the main thing is that a positive approach is a far more powerful tool than a negative one. My next plan is really a continuation of my current project, but it is bigger and more ambitious. I plan to walk from the Aegean coast in Turkey to the Armenian border. This is a distance of c4000km. I want to celebrate the rich biodiversity of Turkey. I plan to engage with as many schools and communities along my route and share my story with them. I hope that what I am doing will encourage and inspire the younger generation to take an active interest in the wildlife around them.
As many of you will be aware; American Birders Association run a great scheme called Birders' Exchange (http://aba.org/bex/). This ethos of this is something that I would love to bring to Europe; and Turkey in particular. It would be great to be able to offer the schools, communities and individuals I meet books, optics and other tools that will help them in the enjoyment of wildlife.
For more information on my project and to follow my progress, please visit my website www.theinkednaturalist.co.uk regularly. You can also follow me on twitter @inkednaturalist
You can hear me talking about my project here:
If you would like to make a donation please visit: http://www.justgiving.com/walkingforturkishwildlife