The IUCN-SCC Heron Specialist Group

Strategic Review 2015

Periodically the Heron Specialist Group undertakes a strategic review so as to assure that it is appropriately focused on heron conservation and research with the fast changing worlds of conservation and research. A review was undertaken in 2015 during which the Group’s goals were restated, organization structure changed, and new leadership installed. The following reviews the history of the organization and summarizes the outcomes of the 2015 review.

The Heron Specialist Group, HeronConservation, is an independent network of biologists, conservationists, and others engaged in research and conservation of herons.

The Heron Specialist Group was founded 33 years ago, in 1982, with James A. Kushlan and Heinz Hafner serving as its founding co-chairs. By the end of the following year, the Group officially had been endorsed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB, now Wetlands International), and International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP, now BirdLife International), all of which recognized it as their global advisor on heron research and conservation. The Group continues to enjoy partnerships, with varying degrees of linkage, with these organizations.

The Group was headquartered at Station Biologique Tour du Valat, Arles, France, and from 2005 in Key Biscayne, Florida, USA. In 2010, it modernized its name to “HeronConservation, the Heron Specialist Group,” changed its organizational structure, and enhanced its approaches to communication. In 2015, it undertook a strategic review to set the stage for its next phase, 2015-2019, coinciding with the triennial planning period of the IUCN. The present report conveys the conclusions of that review, re-stating the Group’s goals, role, and structure, that will serve for the period of 2016-2019.


As it has historically, the Heron Specialist Group will continue to devote itself broadly to the conservation of herons in all its aspects. Its overarching goal is to facilitate planning and on-the-ground conservation. It works especially through facilitating communication and exchange among those interested in herons and their conservation, as well as with a wider audience concerned with multispecies, regional habitat conservation planning and action that affect herons. The Specialist Group achieves its goals by maintaining a membership network and providing that network with communication mechanisms that allow the interchange of information, scientific syntheses, practical guidance, technical methodology, and professional networking. It works specifically through encouraging self-organizing topic-oriented working groups. It also works through strategic representation of heron interests within more-encompassing conservation planning and action programs.

Organization and Membership:

The Specialist Group is led by two co-chairs and a Steering Committee. The co-chairs term is 2015-2019. Steering Committee appointments are open ended. Additional Steering Committee members may be appointed as appropriate.

The co-chairs and the current Steering Committee are:

  • John Brzorad, USA
  • Rob Clay, Paraguay
  • Dale Gawlik, USA
  • Gemma Goodman-Hattie, UK
  • Clay Green, USA, Co-chair
  • Cathy King, Germany
  • James Kushlan, USA, Co-Chair
  • Luis Gonzalo Morales, Venezuela
  • Rebecca Pradhan, Bhutan
  • Anna Stier, France
  • Sara Schweitzer, USA
  • Chip Weseloh, Canada

Members are nominated, including through self-nomination, because of their interest and engagement in herons, their biology or conservation. The Group maintains an open and welcoming approach to initial membership. Members are expected to participate in the communication network. A review of membership takes place every three years (next in 2017).


Facilitating communications is a primary function of the Specialist Group. The Group’s communications functions are led by the Communications Working Group, chaired by Rob Clay. At present the Group’s Website (www.HeronConservation.org), its Facebook page  (HeronConservation), and its techinical journal (Journal of Heron Biology and Conservation) are its main outlets. As part of the Group’s evolving strategy in response to changing media opportunities, additional media outlets will be considered in the future. The development of chat rooms and list serves will be evaluated.  Among the communication goals of the Working Group are to secure the long-term institutional hosting of the website and to enhance the journal.


The Heron Specialist Group’s primary partner is the IUCN Species Survival Commission, which recognizes the Group as its expert on the taxon. It also partners with Wetlands International, particularly on population assessments, and with BirdLife International, particularly on Red List reviews. The Group will continue and intensify its partnerships with other conservation organizations, the work of which can influence heron conservation, including the African Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement, Convention on Migratory Species, North American Bird Conservation Initiative, Ramsar Convention, Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, Waterbird Society, and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, as well as other specialist groups especially those for Storks, Ibis and Spoonbills; Flamingos; and Threatened Waterfowl.

The Specialist Group will seek strategic representation or other appropriate engagement with larger scale conservation planning and action programs to assure that the conservation interests of herons are being represented. These programs may be at local, regional, national, or international scales as opportunity presents itself.  In North America, members of the Heron Specialist Group are well represented in the governance of Waterbird Conservation for the Americas and in turn within the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. The Group will proactively attempt to assure similar engagement in other initiatives and in other geographic areas.


The Heron Specialist Group completed a review of the conservation needs of herons in 2000 and a global action plan in 2007, available in print and on-line on the Group’s website. The Group will take on the iterative restatement of the Global Heron Conservation Action Plan by encouraging submission of new and revised priorities to the present plan. This will be an on-going process, with elements added as they are proposed and, when approved by the Steering Committee, they will be added to the global plan as posted on the website.

The Heron Specialist Group completed a review of the biology of the herons of the world in 2005, available in book form. Species accounts derived from the synthesis are available on the website. Although the Group will not undertake a complete revision, it welcomes authors submitting revised accounts, which will be published on the website, replacing old accounts. The Group will also undertake to develop collaborations with those entities and organizations delivering heron species accounts globally.


At this time the Group will not plan for a global meeting, although it might should an opportunity present itself. However it will take advantage of various meetings and conferences that would attract those interested in herons to offer content on herons and have side-meetings and workshops for interested participants. The first such opportunity will be in September 2016 at the Waterbird Society meeting in USA.

Working Groups:

Much of the planning, facilitation, and coordination of conservation will be undertaken by species and geographic working groups. These groups are self-organizing, connecting to the Specialist Group in whatever ways are appropriate to them. The Specialist Group in turn will encourage and assist the working groups as it is able. Working groups will also be tasked with some of the important activities of the Group itself. At present there are four working groups.

Communications Working Group, chaired by Rob Clay, is responsible for all technical and topical communications within the Specialist Group and with outside entities. This includes the website, Facebook page, other social media, and the journal. The working group is also responsible for communications on technical matters with IUCN, BirdLife and Wetlands International and for communications with other potential partner organizations. Working group member John Brzorad will  explore opportuities for outreach to educators.

Captive Populations Working Group, chaired by Catherine King, coordinates the Heron Specialist Group with the zoo community worldwide on captive husbandry, ex situ, and in situ conservation.

White-bellied Heron Working Group, chaired by Gemma Goodman-Hattie, has sponsored a range-state conference and created a species review and conservation plan for the species.

Agami Heron Working Group, chaired by Anna Stier, has completed a conservation plan for the species.

Reddish Egret Working Group, chaired by Troy Wilson, was organized in 2005. It has conducted a status assessment in 2006 and completd a Conservation Action Plan in 2014. Clay Green serves as the Heron Specialist Group’s liaison.

Review and Revision:

It is anticipated that the Heron Specialist Group should conduct its next strategic review in 2018.