Grasslands - Pastizales del Cono Sur

Plovers and cows on the grasslands in Uruguay
Plovers and cows on the grasslands in Uruguay

The Pampas grasslands of southern South America originally covered over 1 million km2 in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay. They provide some of the richest cattle grazing in the world, and are also of global importance for biodiversity conservation, with over 280 bird species including both restricted-range species and a suite of wintering migrants which breed in North America. But only a tiny percentage of these grasslands remains in a natural state, and even this remnant is threatened by agricultural intensification.

Traditional beef producers, whose grazing livestock helped maintain the mosaic of long, short and tussocky grassland on which the birds and other biodiversity depend, have seen their markets captured by intensively-reared “feedlot” beef. Pasture has been turned over to crops such as soybeans, or afforested with alien species including pine and Eucalyptus. 

Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance (Alianza del Pastizal del Cono Sur)

In 2006 four BirdLife Partners, Aves Argentinas, Aves Uruguay, SAVE Brasil and Guyra Paraguay, formed the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance (Alianza del Pastizal del Cono Sur), with funding from the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation. The Alliance’s chief aim is to secure the long-term conservation of Pampas grassland biodiversity by implementing a model for beef ranchers that combines production with conservation. 

A cornerstone of the Alliance’s approach has been the development of a “bird friendly”  natural grasslands beef certification scheme. Meat bearing the Alliance’s Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xanthopas flavus logo commands much higher prices than feedlot beef.

Grazing Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas

In the first phase of the project, pilot sites were established in all four countries. All are within Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), and range from a single ranch to a chain of properties. The different regimes being trialled include variable stocking rates, rotational grazing, restoration of native grasslands, and use of fire as a management tool. In addition to year round, site specific monitoring of birds and forage plants, an annual wintering shorebird survey is carried out at each of the pilot sites. The survey follows protocols developed by the Alliance; it is carried out by hundreds of enthusiastic local volunteers.

Producers, governments and conservationists working together for nature

The project has generated huge interest from ranchers and, increasingly, from big meat production and distribution corporations too. One of Brazil’s largest meat processors has signed a cooperation agreement with the Alliance. Attendance at the annual Meeting of Natural Grassland Ranchers has doubled from one year to another. This meeting provides an ideal stage for the exchange of experiences between producers and conservationists; it enables the development of joint agendas for the conservation of natural grasslands through livestock ranching. Conservationists, ranchers and government representatives from North America and even further afield have attended, to take home lessons for their own grassland projects. 

A second phase of Jensen funding has enabled the Alliance to expand its work to more ranchers in the Pampas. By December 2012, Alliance grasslands management practices were being applied at 35 properties at ten pilot sites, covering a total of 116,479 hectares. More than 70 ranchers and other businesses had joined the Alliance, bringing a further 200,000 hectares under the “responsible production” model.

Latest news and reports

  • Second tour to the Southern Cone Grasslands, 30 Oct - 2 Nov 2016. BirdLife Partners and producers of the Grasslands Alliance met to exchange experiences and best practices to continue the conservation of natural grasslands through livestock ranching. The event was sponsored by the US Forest Service. Download report (in Spanish).