The Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/BirdLife) will launch a project to improve agricultural practices with the objective of guaranteeing the protection of steppe birds endangered in spaces of the Natura 2000 Network in Extremadura, Aragon and Alentejo (Portugal).
The LIFE Agroestepas Ibéricas project will have a budget of 3 million euros to conserve agro-steppe birds in Special Protection Areas for Birds (ZEPA) in thirteen spaces of the Natura 2000 Network, six in Extremadura, four in Aragon and three in Alentejo (Portugal).
Among the species that will benefit are the Little Bustard, Great Bustard and Montagu’s Harrierdeclared Bird of the Year 2023.
During the next five years, measures will be implemented to improve agricultural practices in favor of these species; they will develop and test models of trade-offs and trade-offs that can benefit farmers and ranchers, while improving the survival and reproductive success of the most endangered bird species linked to agriculture.
The SEO/BirdLife delegate in Extremadura, Marcelino Cardalliaguet, has stressed that the project is “ambitious” and wants to stop the decline of the most threatened agricultural birds by alliance between the administration, farmers and conservation organizations.
In addition, ASAJA, one of the project partners, financed by the European Commission, will promote the creation of communication networks with farmers and ranchers in the ZEPA where the project will be developed. The objective is that the aid models for the conservation of birds on farms are designed with their direct participation and commitment. All this will be replicated in Aragon and also in Portugal, counting as beneficiary partners with the conservation entities SPEA and LPN, and with the support of the Portuguese government through the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF).
sharp declines in populations
According to the NGO, the little bustard, the great bustard and the Montagu’s harrier are three of the most threatened species in agro-steppe environments, since they register serious negative trends of their populations in the last 15 years.
Specifically, the population of little bustard has decreased by 47.6 percent in just eleven years and the situation is particularly serious in Extremadura, where in the same period 2005-2016 it has been reduced by 64 percent, which is why it has been classified as ‘in danger of extinction in that autonomous community. In Portugal, the registered reduction is 49 percent according to national censuses for the period 2003-2016.
While, the bustard also has a negative trend in Spain of more than 30 percent (2005-2019 period)which in Extremadura is even worse, reaching 47 percent of the population in the same period while in Aragon, the fragility of its populations places it in the category of Endangered.
The Montagu’s Harrier has also registered strong declines in recent years, with an average population loss in Spain of 23 percent (2006-2017 period), a trend that is much more negative than the average in Extremadura, where the decline reaches 41 percent of the population in that period.
In Portugal, the last national census of the species estimates a loss of 80 percent of the population in the last 15 years, due to which, the project focuses its efforts on this species there.
Good farming practices
Specific, good agricultural practices will be implemented with collaborating farms and old cereal varieties will also be recovered but more adapted to local conditions of low rainfall and high temperatures, which can allow farmers to grow crops with higher added value, more resilient and with less need to use chemical products.
Also, with artificial intelligence technology to locate nests through thermal photos made from a drone at a safe height.
The coordinator of SEO/BirdLife Conservation programs, Ana Carricondo, considers it “essential” to join efforts and common interests to achieve a good state of conservation of agricultural habitats, while taking into account the needs of the productive sectors and people who run them.
The project, coordinated by SEO/BirdLife, is co-financed by the European Union through the LIFE Naturaleza program and has as beneficiary partners the Agrarian Association of Young Farmers (ASAJA), the Junta de Extremadura through the General Directorate of Sustainability and the General Directorate of Agriculture and Livestock, the Center for Scientific and Technological Research of Extremadura (CICYTEX), the Center for Research in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO) of the University of Porto, the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) and the League for the Protection of Nature (LPN).
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