Ongoing projects

Friendly fences for Great Bustard in Castro Verde (Portugal)

Although farming is necessary to maintain the steppe bird population, some farming practices used nowadays may have a negative impact on species conservation, such as cattle fences. Within this project, winner of the 2013 International Conservation Grant of The Conservation Division of the Forestry Bureau,Taiwan, LPN intends to pursue conservation actions of Great Bustard habitat, with actions aiming the minimization of collision with fences. Field activities will involve volunteers, thus promoting environmental awareness.

Project Justification and Background

The Castro Verde region (locally known as Campo Branco) is a rural area located in the Alentejo region (south of Portugal), in a semi-arid and sub-humid zone greatly threatened by soil erosion and desertification, where the economy is dependent on farming, mining and services. This area, a pseudo-steppe (or cereal steppe) ecosystem, is considered as a valuable natural area, recognized by Birdlife International as an IBA (Important Bird Area) and classified by the European Commission of the European Union as a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA) under the Natura 2000 Network (European Network of Natural Areas).

The main habitat in the Castro Verde SPA are cereal steppes or pseudo-steppes, which result from a spatial and temporal habitat composition, with extensive cereal crops in a rotational system that involves fallows (used for cattle and sheep grazing), cereal (wheat, oat or barley), ploughed fallows and stubbles. Also present are “montados” of oalm and cork trees in the borders of the SPA.

The Castro Verde SPA is considered the most important area of steppe habitat in Portugal, due to its high relevance for breeding steppe birds, some of them endangered at a global level, such as the Great Bustard (Otis tarda).

It has long been an area where these species occur, but in the beginning of 1990s this farming habitat started to show some changes in agriculture, causing great habitat loss and fragmentation through the disappearance of fallow land, increase in cattle density, afforestation of agricultural areas, increase of irrigated crops or conversion of arable crops into vineyards or olive plantations. Such a shift in land management could represent the local extinction of these birds. To avoid these threats, LPN acquired six estates (with the contribution of the European LIFE Programme), implemented farming management compatible with bird conservation, and developed several conservation projects in this area. Some of the endangered bird populations show nowadays growth trends, thus reversing the previous decline.

The overall objective of LPN in Castro Verde is to achieve the conservation of the threatened pseudo-steppe ecosystem, through an integrated sustainable development approach, which ensures the protection of steppe birds. This approach involves direct actions for biodiversity management, soil protection and formation, water management to increase resilience under drought situations, development of sustainable farming practices, scientific research, environmental education and awareness.
Great Bustard and the negative impact of fences:
In the last years there has been a very significant increase in the number and density of fences, due to changes in farming management (namely less manpower due to rural depopulation). Although problems raised by fences, farming is essential to maintain Great Bustard habitat, since cereal crops and fallows for grazing are Great Bustard breeding and feeding habitats. Fences are an important threat to these birds, both by habitat fragmentation and risk of collision. Because Great Bustards are remarkably terrestrial, especially during courtship displays, and are reluctant to fly, fences may lead to the abandonment of display and nesting areas that have good habitat quality. Furthermore, collision with some kind of fences may deadly injure Great Bustard individuals. It may also contribute to increase the predation of chicks. Since 2009, at least 23 Great Bustards died due to collisions against barbed-wire fences in the Castro Verde SPA.

Project LIFE Estepárias, carried out by LPN between 2009 and 2012, developed a methodology to minimize collision of birds against fence barbed-wire. Black and white PVC plates over the upper barbed-wire line were used as signs to increase fence visibility.
Great Bustard trapped in a fence due to collision (Author: LPN)
Signaling of fences with colored PVC plates (Author: LPN)