OSME highlights from 2017

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As we start to get to grips with 2018, it is worth reflecting on another good year for OSME and the conservation work across the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus that our members support.

The early part of 2017 was taken up with the final stages of a landmark project for OSME and our partners, BirdLife International and RSPB. After several years of hard work and fundraising we were able to officially launch the Arabic version of the Birds of the Middle East. This was a team effort but worthy of special mentions are Abdulrahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi (OSME web manager) who lead on the translation of the text, as well as Ibrahim Khader, Sharif Jbour (BirdLife International), Nabegh Ghazal Asswad and Akram Darwish for overseeing the editing process. Jim Martin and Josephine Blaquie (Bloomsbury Publishing) guided the production process, and OSME co-treasurer, Chris Hughes masterfully kept the project within budget. The launch event was held on 11th March at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, and included a panel discussion with OSME members Peter Hellyer, Oscar Campbell, and Ahmed Al Ali as well as the field guide’s co-author, Richard Porter. You can read more details about the book and the launch events here and here. OSME are hopeful that this local language field guide will inspire and engage a new generation of birdwatchers and conservationists across the Arab speaking world.

Following on from the launch of a printed version OSME and BirdLife International have been working with Nature Guides to develop a smartphone App version of the field guide. Progress has been rapid in the latter half of 2017 and testing is now underway. You can read about this initiative here, and donations towards this project are still most welcome. 

One of the most tangible contributions OSME makes to conservation work across the region is through supporting projects with small grants via our Conservation Fund. In recent years OSME Council have made a conscious decision to increase funding to projects, and 2017 was another record breaking year with £14,792 (unaudited end of year figure) spent on 8 projects, including our first funding to Tadjikistan. This is the third consecutive year we have spent a record amount on the Conservation Fund and this is largely due to an anonymous donor, new support from the Tides Foundation and an increase in donations from OSME members and supporters. An update on the Conservation Fund from 2015 and 2016 will be available on the OSME website soon.

The OSME AGM and Summer Meeting were once again held at the BTO Headquarters, The Nunnery, and was a very successful event with a range of excellent speakers. Attendees were treated to a series of excellent six talks, including from four projects that had received support from the OSME Conservation Fund. At the Summer Meeting, AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi became the first OSME Honorary Life Fellow for his tireless work on voluntarily translating the text of the Birds of the Middle East into Arabic. The OSME Summer Meeting is always a highlight in the calendar and we will once again be holding our Summer Meeting and AGM at the Nunnery on the 30th June 2018 – all are welcome. Many thanks to the BTO for their continued support.

For many organisations and individuals involved in birds, whether it be through conservation, tourism or artwork, the Bird Fair held at Rutland Water is a must attend event. The Bird Fair is always an inspiring event to attend, and this year we held a reception with BirdLife International to thanks those involved in the production of the Arabic Field Guide as well as to show some demonstration pages of the new smartphone App. It was a thoroughly enjoyable reception, and as Chairman of OSME for four years this was probably the highlight of my tenure so far. This was compounded by the news that David Lindo "http://theurbanbirder.com/" had won the coveted Birdbrain competition securing £1000 prize money that will go towards the production of the App.

In our ever increasingly connected world we are continuing to grow our presence on social media to help spread the message about the importance of birds and bird conservation across the OSME region. Our Twitter followers are almost at 3500, our Facebook page has more than 1600 likes and our website is being visited more than ever before. We continue to promote Guest Blogs on our website, thanks to the efforts of Richard Porter, which showcase some amazing work across the OSME region. One of the most popular blogs from last year was the fascinating story of the Great Knot known as ‘EI’ that was ringed in Kamchatka, Russia before being observed by OSME member Oscar Campbell in the United Arab Emirates. A fascinating story that highlights the wonder of bird migration and the need for international co-operation if we are to halt the continued decline in migratory species. You can read more about ‘EI’ here and an excellent video is here

All members receive two issues of Sandgrouse each year and Volume 39 (2017) saw the continued publication of our highly regarded journal. Peter Cowan and his team do a fabulous job in producing Sandgrouse which is reflected in the numerous positive comments I receive about the journal. Throughout the year we have been planning a special additional 50th Anniversary supplement that we are looking forward to producing in 2018.

OSME are a membership based organisation and we heavily rely on subscription fees to maintain the level of work that we do across the region. Membership has declined slightly each year for about the last decade although we appear to have seen a stabilisation during 2017 (the 2017 membership figures will be finalised soon). OSME Council are taking steps in early 2018 to see how we can build our membership base to ensure the long-term viability of the Society, and we will report back to the AGM in June. A huge thanks to all OSME members for your continued support of the work we do, it really helps us make a difference.

Finally I’d like to thank all OSME Council members for their input and hard work throughout 2017. We are all volunteers who share a passion for the birds of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus. OSME is an incredibly well run Society that continues to punch above its weight, and Council members should be proud of what they have contributed to during 2017.

Dr Rob Sheldon, Chairman, OSME